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Venus And Jupiter Reach Peak Brightness
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Venus And Jupiter Reach Peak Brightness

Space

Venus And Jupiter Reach Peak Brightness

Venus And Jupiter Reach Peak Brightness
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Kelly Beatty, Senior Contributing Editor for Sky and Telescope magazine, talks to Melissa Block about the brightness and close proximity of Jupiter and Venus.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. You don't need a telescope or even a super dark night sky to be able to enjoy a gorgeous planetary tango going on right now. Venus and Jupiter are both really bright and really close together in the sky. You owe it to yourself to go out and take a good look.

Here to help is Kelly Beatty with Sky and Telescope magazine. And, Kelly, I've been going out every night to take a look at this. Tell folks where they can see these planets and when the best time is.

KELLY BEATTY: Well, you almost have to work hard to miss it. You need to look in the west, in the general area where sunset is, as soon as it gets dark, maybe even before it gets dark. And, unmistakably, you'll see these two bright stars lingering in the sky about halfway up. The brighter one is Venus and the other one, its partner, is Jupiter.

BLOCK: And how bright? When you say they're bright, they are really bright. How bright are they?

BEATTY: They are brighter than any other star in the sky. The only thing that outshines them in the night sky is the moon and, you know, the moon's not in the sky, so there's no competition there.

BLOCK: And they've been gliding past each other. Which one is now higher?

BEATTY: Well, right now, Venus is the one a little bit higher up in the sky. It's on the upper right. Jupiter is down to its lower left and, as you watch them night by night, they've been sliding past each other. Jupiter is actually headed down. In another month, it'll be very, very difficult to see, but Venus will still be there and, in fact, Venus is about as high as it ever gets in the sky right now. And so, we'll have it with us for quite a long time.

BLOCK: This, I understand, was an important observation for Galileo. Explain that.

BEATTY: Oh, well, if you have a telescope of any size, take a look at Venus, the brighter one, and you'll see that it's the shape of a football. Now, week by week, it will mimic the phases of the moon and will become a thin crescent.

When Galileo realized that Venus goes through a full cycle of phases like the moon does, it cemented the idea that Venus goes around the sun and not the Earth and that was the beginning of the end for an Earth-centered universe.

BLOCK: How long each night, Kelly, can folks find Venus and Jupiter in the sky?

BEATTY: Well, the nice thing is that, you know, last year, they were close together, as well, but it was low in the sky just before dawn. This is a special time because the two will be hanging together in the sky for several hours after sunset, so even if you can't rush right out or if you got a little bit of cloud passing by, they will be together until - oh, 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock at night.

And it won't be just tonight. Over the next few days - in fact, a few weeks - you'll be able to see them together in the sky.

BLOCK: And, pretty soon, the moon's going to make an appearance up there with them, too?

BEATTY: Oh, I need you all to mark your calendars for the 25th and 26th because a crescent moon will join the dance. A thin crescent moon, no thicker than a fingernail, will be edging its way up on the western horizon. It'll pass very close to Jupiter on March 25th and next to Venus the next night, on the 26th. There will be three players on the stage at this one time.

BLOCK: OK. I'm marking my calendar right now. One more thing, Kelly, because not to be outdone, Mars, which to my eye with no telescope or anything, is distinctly kind of orange up in the sky.

BEATTY: It is. And, you know, they call Mars the red planet because its rocks are rusty and that red color is really evident to the eye. So if you time this just right, if you look to the west just as Jupiter and Venus are setting in the west, Mars is high up in the southeast and Saturn is just rising over the eastern horizon. You can take in all four at one time.

BLOCK: OK. It's a lot to do. Thanks for helping us out, Kelly.

BEATTY: My pleasure, Melissa. Thanks.

BLOCK: That's Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor for Sky and Telescope magazine.

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