Happy Birthday to ?November 4, 2004
On Thursday morning, November 4th, just before sunrise, you can see the two brightest planets side by side. Near the eastern horizon, shining brighter than the brightest stars, Venus and Jupiter will be less than one degree apart.
Close encounters between Jupiter and Venus happen often enough, every year or so. Some, though, are better than others. For instance, on June 17, 2 B.C., the pair drew so near -- just 6 arcseconds (0.002 deg.) apart -- that they merged into a single dazzling point of light. Some scholars believe that was the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in the Bible.
[It is interesting to note that around the same time that the skies were in the configuration that some scholars believe they looked like when Our Lord was born, that Yasser Arafat was first reported as dead. Whether he is just "brain dead" or physically dead doesn't matter. The skies are telling us that someone of importance is being born as Arafat's life is being snuffed out.
Doorstep Astronomy: Bright Morning Planets
By Joe Rao
The first week of November will be an exceptional time for predawn skywatchers with a beautiful gathering of the two brightest planets, and the waning crescent Moon will later drop by to join them.
Venus and Jupiter will appear closest together on the mornings of Nov. 4 and 5.
The moment of closest approach will actually come during the early evening hours of Nov. 4, unfortunately when this dynamic duo is below the horizon for North America. They'll be separated by just over ½-degree, roughly the apparent width of the Moon (the width of your fist, held at arm's length roughly corresponds to 10 degrees).
Generally speaking, at least for the immediate future, conjunctions between Venus and Jupiter will come in pairs. The first conjunction takes place in the morning sky, usually followed about 10 months later by another in the evening sky.
Then 2½ years later, Venus and Jupiter are again in conjunction, again in the morning sky.
When Venus and Jupiter next get together, it will be in the evening sky late next summer, at the beginning of the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Future Venus-Jupiter conjunctions
The table below shows future Venus-Jupiter pairings in the coming decade.
The closest approaches between these two planets come during the morning apparitions. So although their next conjunction comes about ten months from now, the next time Venus and Jupiter will appear as close together as they will this week, won't come until February 2008.
After Nov. 4, Venus and Jupiter will slowly separate, but there will still be one more eye-catching sight.
On the morning of Nov. 9, those who arise about 45 minutes before sunrise will be treated to a spectacular sight as Venus, Jupiter and the Moon the three brightest objects of the night sky form a stretched-out triangle, the Moon appearing closely above Jupiter.
Imagine the astrological significance that the ancients might have ascribed to a celestial summit meeting such as this!
As a bonus, the 1st-magnitude star Spica and the planet Mars barely miss being part of this assembly; look for them respectively about 17 and 22 degrees below the Moon if the sky is clear and dark enough. More on this morning spectacle in next week's Night Sky Friday.
Summary - (Oct 29, 2004) As the Earth rushes to the point in its orbit known as the Winter Solstice, those in the Northern hemisphere see the days getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. This is good news for sky watchers, especially those willing to rise before dawn. This November offers a chance to witness a beautiful and somewhat rare sight, a close conjunction between the planets Venus and Jupiter.
Full Story - A planetary conjunction occurs when two or more planets appear to be very close together in the night sky as seen from Earth. Conjunctions between Venus and Jupiter are fairly common, occurring as often as three times a year. But on the morning of November 5th, just before dawn, Venus and Jupiter will be less than one degree apart in the sky in the constellation of Virgo the Maiden. A degree is about the width of one finger held at arms distance. The pair will be at their closest at 1:58 UTC on the 5th, when they are 33 arc-minutes apart, or about 0.42 degrees.
This year's conjunction is rare for two reasons. First, the two planets are less than one degree apart; and second, they are more than fifteen degrees from the sun. Large number conjunctions, such as the one that occurred in 1995, are less than fifteen degrees from the sun and therefore lost in the sun's glare. The conjunction on November 5th is also special because it is the last close conjunction between Venus and Jupiter until September 1st 2005.
A conjunction very much like the one occurring on the 5th occurred in August of the year 3 B.C. This historic conjunction occurred on August 12th at 03:00 UTC and was widely visible from the Middle East. That year Venus and Jupiter were only 10 arc-minutes or 0.16 degrees apart in the constellation of Leo the Lion. With such a narrow separation, light reflected from the two would seem to merge into one as seen with the unaided eye.
Some scholars have speculated that this close conjunction may have been interpreted as a sign by a group known as the Magi. The Magi, or wise men, were priests of an ancient religion known as Zoroastrianism. Could this close conjunction have been what sent the wise men traveling to a far of city known as Bethlehem? Unfortunately we can't draw any definitive conclusions. There are no known written records that tell exactly what the Magi saw, or how they interpreted it.
Regardless of what the Magi saw, modern computer software confirms that there was a very close conjunction between Venus and Jupiter in the year 3 B.C. The conjunction of 2004, while not as close, should be no less spectacular sight in the sky. Telescope or binocular users should have no difficulty fitting both planets into one field of view. This conjunction is also an excellent opportunity for aspiring (or seasoned) astro-photographers.
Exposures of from 1/15s to 1/60s are good for those using SLR's with standard 50mm lenses. A zoom lens of 180mm can reduce the required shutter speed to a range of 1/60s to 1/250s depending on conditions. But as with any kind of astro-photography, the key is multiple exposures at various shutter speeds and apertures.
A planetary conjunction is a rare and beautiful sight. Because Venus and Jupiter are both so bright in the sky, the Venus-Jupiter conjunction of 2004 should not be missed. With a little imagination we can transport ourselves back in time to the Middle Eastern Skies before the Common Era, when a bright conjunction dominated the pre-dawn skies.
Rod Kennedy is a technician and education outreach coordinator at the Casper Planetarium, Wyoming's first planetarium. He received his Chemistry degree from the University of Northern Colorado, and has been interested in astronomy for 10 years.