Blazing beacons Venus and Saturn appear striking as twilight falls. Step outside tonight when the Sun goes down and look west. If there are no trees or tall buildings in the way, you cannot miss the two planets; they look like airplanes, hovering near the horizon with their lights on full blast.
Even though both Venus and Saturn travel along the same path, known as the ecliptic, it is not often that they almost touch in the night sky. One of those times will occur on June 30th, when the planets appear to pair up in the western sky in an event known as a “conjunction”.
The show begins on Saturday evening, June 30th, immediately after sunset. Venus (much brighter than Saturn) will appear first in the glow of the setting Sun, a dazzling point of light not far above the horizon. As the sky darkens, Saturn will also pop into view. Amid the backdrop of the constellation Leo the Lion, the two worlds will appear separated by only 41′, an area easily hidden by the tip of your pinky finger at arm’s length.
Although Venus and Saturn will appear to be very close together in the sky, this close conjunction is a line-of-sight effect only and there is no danger of a collision. The two are really very far apart; Venus will be 49 million miles from Earth, while Saturn will be 924 million miles away. The planets are separated from each other by a comfortable 875 million miles.
This conjunction will be a spectacular sight for two reasons. First, the two planets are less than 1° apart; and second, they are more than 40° from the Sun. A large number of conjunctions take place just a few degrees from the Sun, and therefore are lost in its glare. The event is also special because it is the last close conjunction between Venus and Saturn until August 13, 2008.
Following their close encounter, the planets will still remain a stunning pair on the evening of July 1st, when they are separated by 47′. A night later, on July 2nd, the two worlds drift more than 1° apart and for the next few nights they will be both visible in the wide field of binoculars or small telescopes. As the month progresses, Venus and Saturn will move rapidly towards the Sun, and when July turns to August they will be lost in the evening twilight.
- Venus and Saturn will pair up in the western sky on the evening of June 30th.
- The planets will pass 41′ apart around 9 P.M. EDT (01:00 UT, July 1st).
- Venus will shine at magnitude -4.4; Saturn will glow at magnitude +0.6.
- The Venus-Saturn conjunction takes place 42.6° from the Sun.
- Click here for a map of the western sky on the evening of June 30th.