WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 – Late this week Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury gather so close to each other in the western sky that stargazers will be able to block them out first with their closed fist and then with their thumb held at arm’s length.
Visible to the naked eye, the will planets appear very near the horizon about 30 minutes after sunset through this week and into next. Stargazers will need a clear view of the western horizon, avoiding tall trees and buildings.
“Here’s a beautiful chance to see three planets all together,” said senior editor at Sky & Telescope, Alan MacRobert. “Add the Earth under your feet, and you’re seeing half of the solar system’s planets at once. They’ll be a lovely part of the spring twilight.”
Venus and Jupiter have been getting closer since early May. Mercury has now joined them in a rare planetary show. The planets will first form a tight triangle, and a few days later the two brightest planets, Jupiter and Venus, will be one degree apart.
“The view should be best about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset,” continues MacRobert. “And think ‘photo opportunity’. Set up a camera on a tripod, zoom to the max, and try different time exposures.”
May 20-22: While Venus and Jupiter have been coming closer to each other for weeks, after May 20th, Mercury will also be visible. Venus should be the brightest and Jupiter will be higher and to the left; Mercury will appear to the lower right of Venus. Mercury will be moving closer to Venus during these next few days.
May 23: Venus and Jupiter converge to less than five degrees (a golf ball held at arm’s length is roughly five degrees). These two brightest planets in our sky will also be close enough to view at the same time with most binoculars.
May 24: The planets begin to look like a triangle as Mercury passes Venus. From May 24 to 29th, all three planets will fit within a five-degree circle.
May 26: The planets will be the closest together and the triangle will be the most compact, fitting into a 2½ degree circle. At this point, you should be able to block all three planets with your thumb held at arm’s length.
May 27: The triangle begins to disperse; Jupiter travels down and to the right of Venus, eventually disappearing in early June.
May 28: Venus and Jupiter, the brightest planets, will come within one degree of each other. Mercury begins to rise above Venus until its falls again after June 7th.
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