Feb 1st, 2008 marks the conjunction of Venus, and Jupiter -the first planetary conjunction of the year. A conjunction is an event where two objects in the sky appear to come closer. All the stars except out own sun appear as fixed objects because of their great distances. So, we need at least one object such as the moon, or a planet that we can see moving, to see a conjunction.
Conjuctions are only visual phenomena. That means the two objects that appear close, appear so only because they are in the same line of sight as seen from the Earth. In space, the two obects could be located anywhere. When we are talking about a planet in conjunction with a bright star, one of the pair is obviously light years away 🙂
Given that both the orbits of Venus, and Jupiter are not very much tilted with respect to the Earth’s orbital plane (the ecliptic), the conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter are not all that rare. However, since these are the third and fourth brightest objects in our night sky (after the Sun and the Moon), it is always an interesting to watch.
To see Jupiter and Saturn, all you need to do is to wake up about an hour to ninety minutes before sunrise and look to the east-southeast direction. Make sure you are at a place where you can see the horizon. It is really hard to miss these two planets, which are shining at magnitudes of -4 and -2. The brightest object you see in the eastern sky, low on the horizon is Venus. And the other bright object is Jupiter.
If you start observing the pair from today, you will notice that these are getting closer and closer everyday. And on February 1st, they will be the closest. About half a degree apart (which is about the apparent diameter of the moon).
Is this something that is very rare? No. But since this is happening at a time when Venus is close to it’s brightest, I definitely recommend you to wake up early and look at the pretty sight. Also at this time, the pair is a comfortable 30degrees away from the Sun ( That means, they rise about 2 hours before the Sun) thus providing a good view, before the morning twilight sets in.
That reminds me, that it was another planetary conjunction during in my elementary school days that got me hooked to skywatching. And, once you get to skywatching, there is never going back!
I have attachced a sky map to aid your watching. Just remember that the horizon is the left side of the map. You can see how close Venus and Jupiter would be on February 1st in this chart.
And on 1st February, you will also see a waning cresent moon a little higher in the sky, close to the bright red giant star, Antares (Jyeshta). If Anteres was located where the Sun is located, we would be literally inside 😉 it. This supergiant is so big , it would even take the orbit of Mars inside it’s body!
Happy planet hunting, and I wish you a happier life-long skywatching!