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Venus and Jupiter to snuggle in morning sky

Like shy kids at a dance, the two planets are slowly nearing each other, and will appear their closest for North American viewers on August 19.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

A composite image of Venus, one of the two planets that are now appearing very close to each other in our morning sky. NASA/JPL/USGS

Even though they're over 400,000,000 miles away from each other, on Monday, August 18, Venus and Jupiter will appear to be extremely close in the morning sky in what Sky and Telescope is calling "the best planet-planet meetup of 2014."

The sky snuggle between the gas giant and the relatively tiny hot rock will represent the first time in 14 years the two planets have appeared so close together for eastern skywatchers in North America, although they did appear in a similar "conjunction" on the western horizon in 2012. They'll be separated in our sky by only one-third of a degree or less, as Venus continues a steady descent toward our horizon and Jupiter begins rising higher in the night sky.

You can start searching for the planetary pairing today -- if you have a clear, flat view of the eastern horizon -- by looking about 10 degrees above the eastern horizon approximately 30 minutes before sunrise. From now until Monday, they'll continue to rise closer and closer to each other until you'll be able to encircle them by making a ring with your thumb and forefinger, holding it up, and closing one eye.

While they might look similar to the naked eye in our dimmed sky, the two planets are very, very different. A year on Venus takes 224.7 days, while Jupiter only gets to celebrate the New Year once every 11.85 years, according to Universe Today. Venus is a dense stony planet made up of rock and metal with a density of 5.204 grams per square centimeter, while Jupiter is much less dense (1.33 grams per square centimeter), as it largely consists of hydrogen and helium. Then of course, there's Jupiter's bling -- it's got lots of rings and 63 moons. By comparison, Venus is a bit on the plain side.

All of which proves that even when it comes to the movements of celestial bodies in our night sky, opposites attract.

(Via Sky & Telescope)

A Cassini spacecraft image of Jupiter, Venus' partner in a dance on our horizon. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona