The four innermost planets move around in the morning sky throughout early May. During the month’s first 10 days, Mercury and Venus remain roughly the same distance apart and at the same approximate altitude while Jupiter climbs to meet them.
Then, on May 11, Venus passes 0.6° south of Jupiter. The two brilliant planets — Venus at magnitude –3.8 and Jupiter at –2.1 — lie just a bit more than a Moon-width apart. “Be sure to use binoculars to scan the sky for magnitude 0.2 Mercury, which lies 1.5° under the brilliant pair,” said Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich. “It won’t be as dazzling as Venus or Jupiter, but you’ll identify it easily because it’s much brighter than any star in the area.” Mars also lies nearby, some 5° to the lower left of Jupiter.
After this spectacular pairing, Venus and Mercury move closer to the horizon as the days pass. Jupiter continues to rise earlier, and on May 29 the giant planet will meet with a crescent Moon.
Often, such close encounters between Venus and Jupiter occur close enough to the Sun that the planets appear in a bright sky, and it’s hard to pick them out from the daylight. Viewers will have to wait until August 2014 for Venus and Jupiter to have another close morning conjunction. On that date, the brilliant planets will be just about ¼° apart.
- Although it looks like Venus and Jupiter are next to each other in the sky May 11, they don’t lie close in proximity. In mid-May, Venus is some 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) from Earth, while Jupiter is 541 million miles (870 million km).