Earth Sky News for Jan. 6th: Upcoming, marvelous Venus-Saturn conjunction

Upcoming, marvelous Venus-Saturn conjunction

Once again, tomorrow before dawn – January 7, 2016 – look for the slender waning crescent moon close to the planets Venus and Saturn in the eastern predawn sky. And know that Venus and Saturn are getting close! They’ll be closest on the morning of January 9, with a conjunction on January 9 at 0400 UTC. It’ll be their closest conjunction since August 26, 2006 (and the closest conjunction of any two planets since March 22, 2013).

At their closest, Venus and Saturn will be only 5 arc-minutes (1/12o) apart from one another on the sky’s dome. For some perspective, 1/12o is the equivalent of 1/6 of the apparent diameter of a full moon.

Get up early, or around 90 to 75 minutes before sunrise, to view fainter Saturn snuggling up close to dazzling Venus. If you get up late – say less than one hour before sunrise – aim your binoculars at Venus to view Saturn and Venus taking stage in the same binocular field.

And, by the way, Venus reached its highest point in the predawn sky some while ago. Day by day, it’s sinking downward in the direction of sunrise, while Saturn is climbing upward. Before much longer, Saturn will shine above Venus in the January 2016 morning sky.

Also, look for modestly-bright Mars roughly midway between Venus, the sky’s brightest planet, and Jupiter, the sky’s second-brightest planet.

While you’re at it, get an eyeful of the dark side of the moon, which is aglow in earthshine or sunlight twice-reflected from Earth to the moon, and then the moon back to Earth.

Although the moon will drop out of the morning sky in a day or two, you can rely on Venus to guide your eye to the planet Saturn for many mornings to come. These two worlds will appear very, very close together over the next several mornings.

Take advantage of this opportunity to watch all of these worlds through binoculars or a low-powered telescope.

Bottom line: On the morning of January 7, 2016, let the moon be your guide to Venus and Saturn in the eastern sky. Then watch for the great conjunction of Venus and Saturn over the next several days