Jupiter and Venus coming together tonight for a cosmic kiss
March 1, 2023, 5:00 AM HST
Two of Earth’s solar system neighbors have gotten closer to each other during the past few weeks and are about to reach the height of their cosmic courtship with an apparent celestial smooch.
The planetary public display of affection between Venus and Jupiter — the third and fourth brightest objects in the sky, respectively, after the sun and full moon — is thanks to a unique conjunction of the twosome that will happen early this evening, just after sunset and close to the horizon.
They will appear “almost on top of each other,” according to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i in Hilo on the Big Island. Jupiter will be slightly above Venus and to the left.
Observers also might be able to catch a glimpse of three of Jupiter’s brightest moons — Io, Ganymede and Callisto — during the conjunction.
The star-crossed lovers will set at about 8:30 p.m., already moving away from each other, not to meet up again for more than two years. The extraterrestrial event will be visible from Hawai‘i, so don’t miss your chance.
“This really is an event best viewed with the naked eye, binoculars or a small telescope,” said Mari-Ela Chock, communications officer at W. M. Keck Observatory on the Big Island. “Part of the beauty of it will be that the pair are visible while there are still sunset colors in the sky.”
‘Imiloa Astronomy Center explained that a conjunction happens when two celestial objects appear less than 1 degree away from each other in the sky, which most often occurs with the planets. Chock said Venus and Jupiter will appear less than half a degree apart to those of us watching from Earth.
In reality, the planets are more than 400 million miles from each other. That means they are still too far apart physically for most of the large research telescopes on Maunakea to see simultaneously, though some of their instruments can, Chock said.
Conjunctions between Venus and Jupiter happen on average about once a year, Elaina Hyde, director of York University’s Allan I Carswell Observatory, told The Week. However, while they are not especially rare, ‘Imiloa senior planetarium educator and technician Emily Peavy said the next one won’t happen until Aug. 11, 2025, and will be visible in the morning sky, before dawn.
The conjunction tonight is also especially noteworthy because of their brightness. ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center said because the event will happen so close to the horizon, it’s quite likely the two planets together will be mistaken for an unidentified flying object.
Sorry. Just telling it like it is in advance. We didn’t mean to burst any alien theory bubbles or China spy balloon jokes here. But it definitely likely will still be a fun and beautiful event to view.
“Any time the brightest planets, as seen from Earth, ‘get together,’ it’s worth the look,” Paul Delaney, a professor emeritus in the York University Department of Physics and Astronomy, told The Week. “I never tire of watching their dance with respect to the background stars.”
Some Big Islanders already have witnessed some of the splendor as the planetary pair has drawn closer together. Josh Ha‘o and two friends were atop Maunakea on Feb. 22, braving the cold and with snow under their feet, when the 25-year-old from Hilo captured a gorgeous photo of the two dancing near the moon.
“We walked to Lake Waiʻau expecting to photograph blue hour as the sunset went down, realizing the two very bright stars under the moon were planets!” Ha‘o said. “Pulled out our phones and confirmed it was Jupiter and Venus aligned vertically.”
Unfortunately, Peavy said, the weather forecast in Hilo doesn’t look great for trying to view the coupling. She’s right. The National Weather Service in Honolulu as of Tuesday night is forecasting a 90% chance of showers tonight in Hilo. Even the Maunakea Weather Center is forecasting an overcast summit tonight.
It looks like it might be relatively clear on the west side of the island, however, with only a 20% chance of isolated showers in Kona.
You can also still experience the conjunction even if your weather stinks. The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 will be streaming the event online from Rome: “Join us live, online, from the comfort of your home.” The live feed begins at 8:30 a.m. today.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to vote in Big Island Now’s online poll and tell us what your favorite recent out-of-this-world phenomenon has been. Was it the blue swirl? How about the green laser light show? Or the green comet? Vote today and maybe even leave a comment as to why.