November 12, 2019

Astro-Challenge: A Close Valentine’s Pairing for Two Planets!

Venus & Uranus February 9th.

This Valentine’s Day weekend of February 2012 presents observers with an easy “guide-post” to find a usually elusive planet. On February 9th, the brilliant planet Venus passes less than 20’ arc minutes away from faint Uranus in what is the closest ‘planet-meets-planet’ conjunction of 2012. Both are high in the western sky in the constellation Pisces, and you can’t miss Venus shinning at a dazzling -4 magnitude, third in place behind Sol and Luna as the brightest natural objects in the sky. Uranus is 10,000 times fainter at magnitude +6, and this may present the last good chance to nab the distant world before it heads towards conjunction with the Sun on March 24th, 2012. Of course, the two only appear close along our line of sight; in reality, the worlds are over 1.7 billion miles apart! Venus will present a 71% illuminated disc 16” in size, while Uranus will appear a tiny 3.4” across. Again, this size difference is only an illusion of perspective; in reality, Venus is only slightly smaller than the Earth, while the ice giant Uranus is over four times its diameter!

The closest conjunction of the two occurs right around 04:00 UTC February 10th/23:00 EST on the 9th, making for optimal viewing on Thursday evening. Don’t miss it the night of the 9th, as Venus currently has an apparent motion of more than a degree a day, blazing past the distant world from night to night.  In fact, Venus vaults into northern skies this month, starting at a declination of -3° 44’ South on February 1st and ending the month on leap day February 29th at +10° 34’ north. This fine showing by the planetary Goddess of Love will continue with a spring-fling with the planetary king Jupiter March 14th, a fine evening rendezvous with the Pleiades cluster on April 8th, and culminate with a heart-capturing transit of our Sun on June 5th-6th. Phew! ItThink I’ve exhausted my supply of Venus-Valentine’s Day metaphors! We’ll be following all the Venusian action this spring leading up to the June Transit of Venus, which is last of our lifetimes. If you’ve never seen Uranus with your own eyes, now’s the chance. Do get out there with binocs or a telescope this week, and watch this “pseudo-moon” drift by our nearest planetary neighbor. And don’t forget to take a look at Jupiter high in the evening sky, and watch as Mars rejoins late evening viewing on its way towards opposition next month! And follow us on Twitter for the usual cryptically obscure Neith tweets fascinating factoids, bad Uranus puns, and more!

This week also sees the Moon reaching Full phase on 4:54PM EST/9:54PM UTC February 7th in the constellation Cancer. This month’s Moon is also known as the Snow Moon to the Algonquin Indians, and is also sometimes referred to as the Storm, Candles, or Hunger Moon, as this was a traditional time when winter supplies began to run low before spring. And don’t forget that oddity of oddities, February is a “missing moon phase” month!

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