All week, and into next, there is a dance taking place on the celestial dome; the glittering partners move close to each other, change their positions, flirt with a crescent moon, and part. Tomorrow is the culmination of this winter’s unfolding relationship between brilliant planet Venus and radiant Jupiter: they arrive at conjunction – closest approach — in the south-southeast, visible from the pre-dawn hours until the sunrise glow closes the curtain on our view of space.
On the 22nd, Venus appears above Jupiter, separated by just 2 degrees. Each morning thereafter, the distance between them increases fractions of a degree to a degree until, on the 26th, they appear side by side, less than 5 degrees between them. The two planets can be seen until half an hour before sunrise. Sunrise on the 22nd is 7:15am. Sunrise on February 4 is 7:04am.
Add a cosmic perspective to this culmination in our solar system by being outdoors 60 to 75 minutes before sunrise, when the stars of our galaxy populate the dark sky. See one of the most recognizable and largest constellations, Scorpius the Scorpion, with its bright red heart star, Antares, to the right of the planets. It is infinitely more charming in reality than in the illustration with the stick figure. I have included that diagram to guide the eye when studying the second illustration, for January 31, which is more like the experience of gazing at the sky without the lines to connect the stars.
On the 31st, notice the waning crescent moon within 2 degrees of Venus! Also, from a vantage point with an unobstructed view to the horizon, look for two stars close to the skyline to the left of the main figure of Scorpius: these are known as the Cat’s Eyes, or stinger stars, Shaula and Leseth.
To the left of the Cat’s Eyes and to the left of an imaginary diagonal line drawn from Venus and Jupiter to the horizon, planet Saturn is rising into the morning sky. Scan with binoculars for the yellowish speck of light. Saturn is of much lower magnitude than Venus and Jupiter. Saturn and the Cat’s Eyes will be in better view in mid-February.
There is another must-see planet visible in our skies, including Lower Manhattan. Look for red Mars in the southwest 60 to 75 minutes after sunset and traveling west until it sets at 11 p.m.. Sunset is at 5 o’clock on the 22nd and 5:12 on February 4.
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