Venus in a love triangle

By Phil Plait | November 28, 2008 1:00 pm

O, how complicated our heavenly bodies, how lovely their trysts, how ephemeral their passings!

Forgive me my waxing poetical, but this is astronomy, and if the Moon can wax, so can I.

But what I said is true, and you can see it for yourself: take a walk outside over the next few evenings. In the west, just after sunset, Venus and Jupiter grace our skies.Over the course of several nights, as Venus orbits the Sun it appears to be slowly moving eastward, approaching Jupiter. It’s very pretty, and on December 1 the thin crescent Moon will join them!

Even better, for viewers in Europe and NW Africa, on December 1st at 15:50 GMT, the Moon will pass directly in front of Venus! This does not happen very often, so if you get a chance and have clear skies, you should take a look. Watching Venus disappear behind the Moon is something I’ve only seen once, and it’s very cool.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (37)

  1. Adrian Lopez

    Yesterday the clouds gave way to an almost clear sky and I was able to spot Jupiter shining brightly on top of an even brighter Venus. It was an awesome sight.

    I intended to look at these through my new telescope, but the clouds betrayed me.

  2. Wendy

    I live in, like, the rain-and-cloud capital of North America… Lol! Hope the skies stay clear on Dec 1!!

  3. Zclone

    “Science arose from poetry… when times change the two can meet again on a higher level as friends.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  4. I once knew a man who walked on the Moon
    He turned into such a goon
    When the TV Host
    Said it was all a hoax…

    Hey, not bad for my first poem that didn’t end up on a bathroom wall.

    That would be great to see this, but I too live in the rainfall capital of N.A., so I doubt we will have clear skies.

  5. if you want a better idea of the line up and maps and more click my name above ..
    scrool down the page for a few good posts on it

    phil you never gave much for them to go on.

  6. Yossarian

    I’m in the Canadian Arctic right now. It’s nighttime between 3PM and 9AM where I am right now. I should go out and see if I can see this. Or am I too far North or something?

    Bloody cold out there, too. Better be worth it :)

  7. Levi

    I’m not sure how to read that map in the link. What’s with the big rubber-band-shaped loop over the North Atlantic? Does that mean we New Yorkers are just barely going to miss the occultation?

  8. Yossarian

    Anyone know of a website I can go to to look up when Venus rises based on latitude? I’m guessing I have to wait until morning…

  9. @ Yossarian

    Click on my name and the link will lead you to Your Sky interactive sky map.

  10. I can only hope this “Astro-Love” triangle works out better than the last one… 😉

  11. I’m just glad that when I told my daughter which planets those were, I guessed correctly. (Okay, Venus was a gimme.)

  12. Wildride

    What grooming you and Poetical do in private are none of our concern.

  13. IBY

    U.S. has always clouds passing by, jeez. I have been waiting to see this for over a week now. Hopefully, the sky won’t disappoint. Then again, the world is cruel… :(

  14. MB

    Tonight was a great night for observing the sky where I am. As the sun began to set, lots of sundogs showed up against the orange sky. As it got darker, Venus and Jupiter appeared over the still pink sky. I got out my camera and took some long exposure pictures of the planets, and then to top it off I saw a few meteors pass over. It was a great night!

    Here’s my best picture of Venus & Jupiter:

  15. Perfect! Thanks Phil. Occultations are one thing my Palm Planetarium software isn’t very good at predicting. I’ll remember to take my binoculars to work on Monday :)

  16. The rest of you can trot out your fancy terms like “occultation” if you want. Me, I’m calling it a Venutian eclipse.

  17. Charles Boyer

    It’s been a lot of fun watching this over the past month as the two planets appear in the night sky.

    A bonus was last week when ISS with the Endeavor orbiter attached to it went “beside” the two shortly after sunset. We were able to see details on the laboratory with binoculars…nothing like the fanstastic telescope shots that are often posted on, but still, enough that one could tell that ISS was a man-made thing and not just a bright dot of light in the sky!

  18. Bruce A

    I was out last night at sunset and watched where Venus should be. I blinked, and there was. A few minutes later Jupiter came into view. That was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Up high like that they look like really bright stars, but later just before it was going to set, I saw Jupiter near the horizon. It was a bright orange-red colour, like Betelgeuse. I’m guessing that was caused by particulate matter in the atmosphere. Times like this make me wish I had a telescope.

  19. Melusine

    We’ve had clear cold nights, so there’s been no missing these two! I’ve also had no problem seeing my favorite, the Pleiades, in my northeast view here in New Haven. (Something I couldn’t see without binoculars in Houston proper.)

    Venus is not an UFO! :)

  20. Levi

    Venus is too a UFO…unless you identify it.

  21. For an even cooler alignment for those of us in Australia and possibly those in similar timezones, the first of december will provide us with a big happy smile in the sky.
    Click my link for some shameless adverting from the Sydney Observatory, and also for more information about the alignment.
    Asside from my digital camera, I have nothing to image this event with, and I’m really hoping that at least one of the BABlog viewers does and is able to get a nice pic of the event.

  22. icemith

    What alerted me to this interesting event was a local Telescope dealer’s newssheet (Night Sky) Nov 2008 Issue 281

    here in Sydney, Australia. They have a depiction using Starry Night software, and the main thrust of the picture and the copy is that December 1st be henceforth be known as “Smiley Day”. And it looks about right. Not sure if they have an e-Zine version – I guess I should have checked that first.

    For we Southern Hemisphericals at least, as our planetary orientation means we see it AS a smiley face, rightway up, whereas our northern friends will be up to 90 degrees offset and not as recognisable as a face. : ) or ( : not sure which, but we will probably miss out on seeing it as a scowl, as it will be below our horizon : ( after the occultation, or its near miss for those other than Europe and NW Africa.

    Anyway that is how I interpret the event. Interesting to see just how it turns out.


    I shall be hoping for clear skies too around sunset or and later.

  23. icemith

    Well the web address I posted just above did not appear – must have been something I did not do properly – but yes, there a web magazine version, and yes, I have checked it out and it is exactly the same.

    So go into Bintelshop’s website and the Night Sky tab to bring up the e-zine. I hope I’m not contravening any web rules by suggesting this.


  24. Well, I’m living in Sweden. And it will be rainy that day. :(!!!

  25. sleepyinsaudi

    Phil and everyone else here, My husband noticed that the map link has November 31,2008 as the date, not Dec. 1. Wow did we just have a monumental shift in the lenght of a year? ;P

    Wish I was in Morocco to see this.

  26. Its been excellent watching this (apparently) proximate encounter of worlds from Adelaide, South Australia, over the past week or so as the two planets Venus the brightest and closest in our solar system and Jupiter the largest planet draw ever closer in the sky.

    Its interesting and relaxing to just stare up at the western sky around sunset comparing their respective brilliance and colour.

    Its worth considering how different these worlds are and how far apart they truly are even as they seem so close in Earth’s skies.

    Think as you watch that while Venus is really inside the Earth’s orbit less than 1 Astronomical Unit (the Earth-Sun ave. distance) away, Jupiter is about five times further out deep into the colder middle regions of our solar system surrounded by a retinue of icy moons some larger than Mercury and Pluto and of course our own Moon.

    That while both these worlds have thick dense atmospheres, that on Venus is a scalding sulphuric acid one of mostly carbon dioxide trapping in the heat and making this otherwise earth-like rocky planet into a greenhouse hell – “Svante’s inferno!” (Svante being Svante Arrhenius, a physicist who, I think, first came up with the greenhouse FXT idea.) Below that dense atmosphere the lava rocks of the Venusian or, since we’re being poetic, Cytherean surface broil and swelter and bubble perhaps near the point of melting entirely and resurfacing the whole Cytherean globe in molten rock.

    Contrast that mental imagery with Jupiter’s atmosphere which is cold, ammonia -rich with hurricanes the size of quadruple Earth diameters, lightning is common to both worlds, but lightning on Jove never strikes the ground, plunging instead through clouds that get thicker, more soupy more like liqiud then become a liquid then denserand denser liquid until they are transformed into metallic hydrogen, silvery and endless overlying the mystery of the Jovian core.

    The scale of Jupiter staggers the mind and defies comprehension – yet there it is, the smaller and somewhat dimmer of those two luminous dots in the sky.

    The brightness and beauty of the Morning and Evening star, Hesperus, Phosphorous, both old names for Venus, an object to which the Aztecs once sacrificed human lives and cut out bleeding, pumping human hearts in their warped religion thinking the heavenly speck was connected to their god Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent. (Well at least they had the reptile-bird bit sort of there .. 😉 )

    Try to spot the crescent of Venus with your unaided eyes – apparently the very sharpest eyes can spot it. Venus cast shadows, it once over-shadowed the French general and Conqueror Napoleon. It is a fiery world with features named for historic and mythic women hidden under a scalding corrosive veil that human eyesight cannot pierce.

    Then get out the binoculars or telescope and observe the four little dots that were Galileo’s “Medicean stars”, eruptive Io, Ocean-under-ice Europa, Geologically active largest moon record-holder Ganymede and poor battered Callisto as cratered as a moon can be. Watch them dance, these little worlds the first moons ever spotted beyond the Earthly realm and watch the shadows they cast on the banded cloudtops that form the chilly heights of a planet whose core seethes at temperatures and pressures breath-takingly high.

    Look up at these worlds and reflect on what they are. Try to picture and imagine them in their full bizarre splendour their poetry and their scientific tangible reality. Look up at these worlds, these starry wanderers and ponder their natures and think and marvel and see science and poetry combine.

    I recommend it! :-)

  27. Joker

    Venus and Jupiter making a love triangle in the Moon!?

    Whose hubby’s whose and whose the illict lover here?

    Is Venus the scarlet -er make that yellow – woman?

    Is Jupiter like the namesake god being adulterous? :-)

    Is the Moon pregnant? (Fully morining sick phase?) 😉

    Or is Jupiter just Mooning Venus? 😉


    PS @ Icemith, posting links here means your post goes into moderation. First time or frst couple of times you post here, same deal. It usually should come thro’ eventually as yours has. Lotsa folks here get around that by using the “website” bit in the submit reply form to post a link – course that only works with one link at a time and its a pain but its the BA’s blog and that’s how it goes – until he changes the system to something better.

  28. I saw the smiley face in Sydney last night. Venus was very bright. By the time I got my camera out though the moon had dipped below the tree line. I’m fairly confident that on max zoom with the hi-def vid camera I could make out Venus as a round, if not spherical object, too.

  29. John

    Well an hour or 2 away and it’s cloudy and expected to be full cloud cover for the rest of the day.

  30. cori
    try to view this site. i was so amazed when i saw the smiley sky. Btw im from the Philippines. I saw the sky when i was about to enter the house and it was clear. I thought that was just an imagination or coincedence. I surf the net to see if other peeople saw it too. I found that site and i feel overwhelmed with what i found out. We are lucky to see the smiley sky which will only happen again on July 2036.

  31. John C.

    Read about this on your blog yesterday. I am watching it Right now here in Cork , Ireland. What a beautiful sight ! Thanks for the tip.

  32. brenda, p'ville tx

    Because of cloud cover we despaired of seeing the Moon and planets last night, but as we drove through the country just after sunset the sky cleared and my son and I had a perfect view. It was lovely. I hadn’t heard the smiley face description, but it is quite appropriate :-)

  33. minty fresh

    I had a great view here in Virginia. Driving home at around 7:00 PM I saw it I remembered reading this post and instantly knew what I was looking at. In relation to the crescent moon, Jupiter was at about 3 o’clock and Venus at 4 o’clock. Incredible!

  34. :(
    No smiley for us in Sydney last night… overcast. Oh well, 2036 it is then.

  35. I actually noticed Venus and Jupiter a day or two before your post, Phil. While driving along, I spied the two bright points of light, and for the first time, I realized how some people could mistake Venus for some manner of flying object. Because I was only able to get quick glimpses (eyes on the road and all that), I also experienced a sort of illusion in that it seemed that the points moved a little bit between glances. I’m sure the occasional intervening trees also helped with that effect.

    In the end, though, I simply marveled at the beauty of the sight and the reality of what was actually up there. Gorgeous.


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