Planets aligned for viewingMITCHELL, S.D. - People who enjoy gazing into the night sky may be enjoying an interesting sight in recent days.
By: Lisa Kirkie The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
MITCHELL, S.D. - People who enjoy gazing into the night sky may be enjoying an interesting sight in recent days.
In late November and early December, Dakota Wesleyan University mathematics professor Michael Farney said Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction — meaning they are close together in the sky — and are easily viewable throughout the region.
How often does this happen? Not often.
According to National Geographic, the next visible Venus-Jupiter conjunction will be on the evening of March 14, 2012, but the planets will appear farther apart in the sky.
If a person looks toward the southern or southeast horizon at night, the two planets are easily spotted this week, and have been over the past week as well. They were closer together about a week ago, and are especially noticeable right after sundown.
Venus is the lower, and brighter, of the two. Tuesday evening, Jupiter was fainter and off to the upper right of Venus.
Farney said much of the viewing depends upon where the planets are in their respective orbits. He used an example of two horses racing to explain why Venus and Jupiter are so easily seen this week.
“Imagine that you are a racehorse and that you are third from the rail,” he said. “Venus would be the second horse from the rail and Jupiter would be fifth from the rail.
“You look over your left shoulder to see Venus on the inner track coming up from behind and Jupiter way in the distance swinging round the curve. From your perspective, you see the horses almost together. The closer one would be larger and for the same reason, Venus looks brighter,” he said.
To gain a better sight of the conjunction, the Wesleyan Observatory at DWU can be utilized. However, Farney said Tuesday that the planets are now too far apart to catch them both in one field to view.
“Winter nights are cold and cloudy, making group shows difficult in general, though it has been done,” he said.