Venus and Jupiter conjunction wows stargazers

Venus and Jupiter conjunction wows stargazers
Rebecca Weir via CNN
From left to right: Venus, Jupiter and the Moon line up in the pre-dawn sky in Newcastle, England.

Stargazers in the UK got a rare treat Tuesday morning after Venus, Jupiter and the moon appeared together in the dawn sky.

Shots of the spectacular conjunction were a big hit on social media, with excited users posting some astonishing photos.

While the two planets appeared even closer in the sky on January 22, perfect conditions in the UK Tuesday sparked great public interest.

On January 22, the conjunction “was too low in the sky to be easily seen in the UK, but across North America the planets could be seen in the South East of the sky from around 4am to 7am EST,” said Anna Ross, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in London.

These conjunctions are fairly common, said Leigh Fletcher, a Jupiter scientist at the University of Leicester in the UK.

The two planets will continue to move further apart, Fletcher told CNN via telephone, adding that Tuesday morning was great for stargazers.

“The weather has been ideal for us to take a look at what’s going on,” he added.

Researchers like Fletcher have spent the past few months waiting for Jupiter to re-emerge from behind the sun, and the recent photos are some of the first Earth-based observations of the planet since late last year, he said.

Over the next few months Jupiter will become even easier to see, said Fletcher, with the best view on June 10.

Jupiter is five times further from the sun than the Earth is, while Venus sits between the Earth and the sun — about 75% as far from the sun as we are — and is the brightest object in our night sky aside from the moon, according to NASA.

“Although it’s smaller than Jupiter, Venus appears brighter because it’s much closer to the sun,” said Morgan Hollis of the Royal Astrological Society. “This means that more light hits it and can be reflected off to be visible from Earth.”

And while there are 14 planetary conjunctions due in 2019, according to Hollis, the combination of the two planets and a bright moon made for some nice photographs on Tuesday morning.

Unusual events

In December 2018, Fletcher co-authored a study that identified a regular pattern of unusual meteorological events at Jupiter’s equator.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, predicted that the thick, white clouds that are often observed at the equator would have disappeared when Jupiter re-emerged from behind the sun, and Fletcher says initial observations have confirmed their predictions.

Excitement is also building as NASA’s Juno probe prepares for its next close encounter with Jupiter on February 12.

The probe was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016.

Since then it has been sending back amazing images of the giant planet, and the February 12 flyby will give scientists a chance to see how conditions have changed, said Fletcher.

The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter is the latest space event in what has been an exciting year so far for astronomers.

Earlier this month, stargazers in most parts of the globe were able to catch a glimpse of a rare super blood wolf moon. This was a total lunar eclipse that happened at the same time as a supermoon — when the moon is full and closest to Earth in orbit.

If you’re interested in celestial events, keep an eye on the skies from April 19 to May 28, when the Eta Aquarid meteor shower will put on a spectacular show.