June SkyTalk | Jupiter Meets Venus!

The mythological celestial “King of the Gods” is about to embrace the “Goddess of Love.” Jupiter has dominated the eastern and southeastern sky for months now, as has Venus the western one. But the King has been slowly moving westward and drawing ever-closer to the Goddess, seemingly attracted by her gravational pull. Although gravity itself isn’t actually at play here, the force involved in their attraction to each could metaphorically be another form of it—what the famous visionary Buckminster Fuller was referring to when he said that “Love is metaphysical gravity.”

For months now, these two radiant objects have dominated the evening sky. Venus is the third brightest object in the heavens after the Sun and Moon, while Jupiter is the second brightest of the planets. So their presence anywhere in the night sky is sure to attract attention from even the most casual sky-watcher. But when they come close together in conjunction as they will be doing this month, it’s truly a celestial spectacle not to be missed! And it can be enjoyed with the unaided eye and (as the month progresses) binoculars and eventually in small telescopes.

Look for these lovely beacons in the west during and after dusk, beginning early in the month and then watch them close-in on each other as the weeks pass. They begin June about 20 degrees apart. (For reference purposes, the apparent size of the Moon in the sky is ½ degree.) As the end of the month approaches, they will finally be near enough to fit in the field of view of typical binoculars. The sight of both planets together in such glasses will be truly spectacular! Then on the evening of June 30th they arrive at conjunction with each other just a scant third of a degree apart for observers in North America. This is close enough that they can be seen in the same field of view of small telescopes. Adding to the beauty of the scene in such instruments will be Venus’ dazzling half-illuminated silvery disk and much larger banded Jupiter attended by its four bright satellites.

A word here for those who lament that they can’t enjoy sky-gazing due to the increasing menace of light pollution where they live. Many exceptions to this objection could be pointed out. But this month’s conjunction of Venus and Jupiter proves beyond any doubt that they can still enjoy celestial events. Given a view to the west after sunset, these two radiant worlds so close together can be seen without any optical aid from the heart of heavily light-polluted major cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta! And on a related note, if those who are house- or apartment-bound have a westward facing window with an unobstructed view take time to look out, they too will clearly see this planetary spectacle.

— James Mullaney
Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine & author of nine books on stargazing. His latest, Celebrating the Universe!, is available from HayHouse.com.