Image Credit & Copyright: I created the two illustration above in Stellarium and they depict the June 30 conjunction as well as the June 20 triangle configuration which I explain below. The image below was captured by me earlier this month. Left to right is Jupiter, Venus and the two twin stars of Pollux and Castor in Gemini. I highlighted them for an easier view.
As I touched on in my monthly “Space Junk” series, June is an epic month for planet watching, for every night the universe will be putting on a show for all who may be interested; reaching its pinnacle on the night of June 30.
Tonight, Wednesday, June 12 marks a great start point if you’re just hearing about this event as not only do we have less than 10 degrees separating Jupiter, above and to the left of the brighter Venus; we also have Venus directly next to the beautiful 577 light year distant open star cluster of Messier 44 (M44) or the Beehive cluster in Cancer the crab. The cluster won’t appear to the naked eye but one look in a pair of binoculars and you just might just find yourself gazing at the area night after night. If you happen to own a telescope or know someone who does, I would recommend breaking it out or calling that friend because there’s more to planets than just points of light on the nighttime sky.
Venus is past greatest eastern elongation (It’s highest point in the western sky) so one look through an average sized telescope will reveal a half-Venus and watch night after night as it grows larger while becoming a thin crescent over that same time as it heads for inferior conjunction. Inferior conjunction is when the inferior (inner) planets line up between Earth and the Sun.
Swing the scope over to Jupiter and find yourself on another world. An average sized telescope will reveal Jupiter’s horizontal atmospheric cloud bands as well as the infamous Great Red Spot which, for coming generations may be something they only read about and see images of as the GRS has been shrinking at a rapid rate. Have a look while you can! See the link below for the post that I created about that topic. In addition, the four beautiful Galilean moons of Io, Europa, Ganymede (the largest moon in the solar system) and Callisto are always a treat in the eyepiece. Check on them every few hours and you may be surprised to discover that they move pretty quick.
On Friday, June 19 the young thin crescent moon joins the stage and the three spheres will form a tight Isosceles triangle. The three will meet up again on Saturday night (June 20) for yet another Isosceles demonstration. This sight, sitting low on the western horizon within the colors of sunset will offer up some impressive perspective. When you see them, realize that the 2,159 mile in diameter Moon sits roughly 240,000 miles away. Compare that to Earth’s 7,521 mile in diameter twisted sister; Venus which is roughly 60 million miles away. Now look at the dimmer 88,846 mile in diameter Jupiter, which could squeeze 1,321 Earths into it sitting about 400 million miles away from our vantage point here on Spaceship Earth. All of which, are illuminated by the 4.5 billion year old 865,000 mile in diameter, thermo-nuclear fusion reactor 93 million miles from Earth.
The celestial show reaches its grand finale on the night of Tuesday, June 30 as Jupiter and Venus reach conjunction. The two will be just one-third of a degree apart from one another on the nighttime sky. Just for scale, the full moon is a half-degree on the sky so the two would fit within its boundaries; easily covered with your pinky finger. You won’t see that again until August 27, 2016.
NOTE: As these events takes place in the west after sunset, it’s important to have a plan and don’t waste too much time. Understand that the planets, like everything else on the sky rise in the east and set in the west due to Earth’s rotation so as soon as the Sun retreats and twilight begins you have a couple hours at most before the planets chase the Sun below the horizon. So find a clear, open western horizon, hope for clear skies and enjoy the show!
Jupiter’s Great Shrinking Spot: https://danspace77.com/2014/05/16/jupiters-great-red-spot-is-at-its-smallest-size-ever-seen-whatsup-with-that/