This evening at dusk we are told to turn our eyes West to see the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. They will be coming within 1/3 of a degree of each other. According to National Geographic, they were even closer last year on August 18. It is thought that a conjunction explains the Star of Bethlehem in 2 or 3 A.D. The Gospel of Mark refers to one star; however, astronomers recorded the two planets only being separated by 1/100 of a degree. Therefore, they would be visibly indistinguishable.
“The two planets had merged into one single gleaming object, one giant star in the sky, in the direction of Jerusalem, as seen from Persia.” – John Mosley, Griffith Observatory
According to Michael Casey of CBS News, these planets are still incredibly distant, despite how close they will look in the sky. Jupiter may be much larger than Venus, but it is also much farther from Earth, at 565 million miles away. That is 507 million miles more than Venus’ distance. This explains why the two planets will look similar in size. Venus will also be six times as bright as Jupiter, although only being 1/10th its size.
Missing it tonight? Tomorrow they will be 1/2 degree apart, and until July 4th these two stars will remain less than 2 degrees apart.
Sunset is 8:26pm, so look to the sky about an hour after that to see these two brilliant planets coming together on the last night in June.