Jupiter and Venus
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King and Queen of the Sky Renew Vows This Month For All To See

+ Von Del Chamberlain +

February 10, 1999

The procession has already begun. The groom is walking down the sky to the west, lower each and every evening. The bride shines brighter and brighter, moving higher. I hope all my readers have been watching Jupiter and Venus, two great and famous luminaries of heaven. Now is the time to pay especially close attention as they move into position and as celestial spectators, also of Olympian fame, make their final arrangements for the great occasion.

As Jupiter, king of planets, named for the ruler of Olympian gods, and Venus, brightest of all planets, symbol of beauty, love and fertility, move closer by one degree each day, stately Saturn seems to watch from high in the southwest. With only a few degrees separating them on February 17, careful observers under clear evening sky might notice Mercury, swiftest of planets and known as "messenger of Grecian gods," moving into the scene below and to the right of Venus. We might think of Mercury as the celestial minister, arriving to perform the ceremony. The three planets--Mercury very close to the horizon south of west at dusk, brilliant Venus higher and a bit more to the south, and bright Jupiter still higher--will then be nearly in a straight line. On that same evening the delicate crescent Moon, maid of honor for this auspicious gathering, will stand between Mercury and Venus (closer to Venus), as if passing through, checking things out to be certain all is in readiness.

As you go out each evening to look around, after doing your own checking of the planetary gathering in the west, don't forget to look to the south to enjoy the brilliant group of stars arriving there. The stellar portrait of Orion stands above and right of Sirius, brightest star of the night. Above Orion, nearly at the zenith, is the yellow star Capella, dimmer than Sirius, but still one of the brightest of stars. To the lower left of Capella you will find the "Twins of Gemini," Castor and Pollux, and to the lower right of Capella is Aldebaran, brightest star of Taurus. Notice the little bunch of stars in a V-shape with Aldebaran at one end of the V. These are the Hyades, a cluster of stars. Then, don't miss picking up the famous Pleiades, another cluster to the right of the Hyades. If you have binoculars, be sure to look at both the Hyades and Pleiades to notice dozens of stars in each cluster instead of just the few you can see with naked eye. Out in the night, you can think of these and all the other stars as watching, along with you, to witness the pair of majestic planets drawing together, evening by evening.

The day Venus and Jupiter, the magnificent planetary pair, will appear to "stand at the alter," their closest apparent approach to each other in our sky, will be February 23. On that evening they will be only about three-tenths of a degree apart--two magnificent celestial lights seeming to look down on us to make sure our eyes are turned toward them in admiration. What a sight this promises to be for those watching toward the west as the sky darkens. The two brightest planets standing so close together! And Mercury, a dozen degrees to the lower right, seems to assist with renewal of vows while Saturn, higher in the west, stands in sanction and all over the sky stars twinkle their approval. As the glow of sunset continues to wane the planetary-lovers make their honeymoon escape beyond the fence of mountains.

The affair will not last long, for the next evening the two great planets will appear noticeably farther apart and each evening the separation will increase by about one degree. Mercury will linger and appear to draw closer to Jupiter through the rest of the month, as this ruler of planets continues its gallant exit from our evening sky. At the same time, Venus will move higher while growing in brightness to dominate the view at eventide. We will pick this story up and continue it in my next column, for still more awaits our enjoyment of beautiful skies heading into spring.

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