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16 August 2014

spectacular free night sky show on Monday / wake up you sleepyheads rub your eyes get out of bed / light pollution sux the hairy wazoo

Click to enlarge.

Have you heard? It's in the stars
Next July we collide with Mars!
Well did you ever?
What a swell party this is

-- Cole Porter


by Deborah Paulson


Astronomers and amateur stargazers alike are in for a treat this week; particularly those on the East coast of the United States of America.

The Atlantic states are going to get an incredible view of both Jupiter and Venus early on the morning of Monday 18 August 2014. These two planets will appear very bright -- they should stand out from their much smaller counterparts. Venus will appear to be much brighter than Jupiter because Earth’s twin is closer, obviously, than the Red Spot planet. As the day progresses, they will approach each other and appear as one glittering star.

When they join together (from our perspective) they will form what scientists are calling a “double star”. It will look like one glittering body with two foci. 

The best place to witness this phenomenon will be Europe where the two celestial bodies will only be 0.2 degrees apart. On the USA East coast, they will appear 0.3 degrees apart. Also, in Europe the display will be somewhat more spectacular than in the United States.

Astronomers say this celestial phenomenon is known as “conjunction” because of the way the planets seem to join together. The event is best observed (and enjoyed) within the hour before sunrise. As with most stellar activity, it is best to view the event in an open field or another area not polluted by the artificial light of the city. Of course, you should also check the weather report for clouds.

While the event is best viewed for that hour on the morning of Monday 18 August you can enjoy the “conjunction” of Venus and Jupiter for up to three days before they are no longer visible in earth’s orbit. If you miss the event this year, don’t worry, this happens once a year. This just happens to be a year where both planets are remarkably close and easier to see.
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