CHRISTMAS NOW: JUNE-JULY 2015
See a rare Venus-Jupiter conjunction in the west after sunset. This pairing of Jupiter and Venus is almost identical to what the Wisemen saw in June of 2 BCE.
The 2015 conjunction is in its final stages now and every night the gap closing. Venus is drawing nearer to Jupiter as seen in the western sky for a few hours each night after sunset.
On June 30 and July 1, Jupiter will be less than a half of a degree apart! That’s about a half a pinky width with your arm extended.
The June issue of Sky & Telescope magazine calls this Jupiter-Venus conjunction, “…not only close, but also truly epic in other respects. This is the middle event in a trio of Venus-Jupiter conjunctions that closely resembles the series that might have been the appearances of the Star of Bethlehem in 3-2 BC.”
Over about an 18-month period starting in August 3 BC and continuing until the end of 2 BC, there were 3 conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus in the constellation of Leo. On June 17, 2 BC, Venus and Jupiter, seen from the Middle East, became one “star.” The Wisemen did not have the telescope needed to see that they were still 2 objects very close to each other. It would be another 1,600 years before the invention of the telescope.
In the ancient world, the word “star” was a generic word meaning anything in the sky that lights up at night, including the five naked eye “wandering stars.” The Greek word planetes means, “wandering star.”
Last fall 2014, like in 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus were together in the same part of the sky in the early morning twilight.
This month, on June 30 and July 1, Jupiter and Venus will again be very close to each other.
Unless your eyesight is as bad or worse than mine, you will still see two separate planets. Binoculars will show both in the same field of view. If you can hold the binoculars steady or have a way to mount them on a tripod, you will also see the 4 brightest moons of Jupiter. A small telescope on a tripod will show the same view in a low power eyepiece.
While you are looking, remember this is a line of sight illusion from an Earth vantage point as we move around the Sun. Venus is catching up to us as it moves around the Sun faster than Earth.
As we look past Venus to the other side of the Sun and out beyond the orbits of Venus, Earth and Mars, we see Jupiter as we are catching up to it with our faster orbital speed.
This is sort of like traveling in the center lane of an expressway, looking at the faster cars going by on the left, as you are passing and looking at the slower cars on the right. Imagine the interstate circular like a racetrack and you have a model of the Solar System.
Venus is about the size of the Earth, Jupiter much larger. However, because Venus is relatively nearby, it will look about the same size as Jupiter, which is on the other side of the Sun and much further away. Venus is in a crescent phase, but because of its apparent near size and dense cloud cover, it reflects more sunlight and looks brighter than Jupiter in Earth’s sky.
So get outside for a few minutes every clear night between now and mid-July, and look west anytime between 45 minutes or so after the Sun sets until about 11 PM.
This will be the only time in your life you will be able to see in the sky nearly the same “star” that probably was the original Christmas Star. By the end of July, Venus and Jupiter will get lost in the sunset glare.
Check it out every clear night for a few minutes; you will be amazed by what you see. If you were watching Saturday June 20, the sight was stunning, waxing crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus in a perfect triangle.
Hopefully you will have clear skies on the 30th and 1st as Jupiter and Venus almost touch and then exchange places.
Jupiter and Venus will be near each other again in the predawn sky this fall as they were in the fall of 2 BC. For the rest of the story, you will have to come to our planetarium show Star of Bethlehem 2015 during its three week run in December.
Thanks to our colleagues at the Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University for permission to reprint a portion of their June and July Sky Calendars. You can do no better than a $12 a year subscription to the Sky Calendar to keep up on the night sky. Your 12 bucks delivers 3 months of the double-sided monthly Star Chart/Sky Calendar 4 times a year to your mailbox.
Thanks to Sky & Telescope magazine for permission to print the Dusk June 30 chart. Founded in 1941, Sky and Tel has been the essential guide to astronomy for decades. Follow the link for subscription info and all kinds of on line free info about the sky.
Thanks also to the founders of The Way International, New Knoxville, Ohio, who, in the early 1980’s alerted astronomers and biblical scholars to the series of Jupiter-Venus conjunctions in 3-2 BCE. If I recall correctly, soon after Sky and Telescope and others spread the information and then scientific community soon verified the 3-2 BC events.
By the early 1990’s the Adler Planetarium in Chicago had created a new “Star of Wonder” show for the holidays, others soon followed. The Schouweiler’s totally new Christmas show “Star of Bethlehem 2000” and updated revisions each following year present the 3-2 BC Jupiter-Venus conjunctions and the June 17,2 BC “fusion” of the two as the Christmas star.
If you catch any successful images of the Jupiter-Venus conjunction from a Fort Wayne area site over the next few weeks, contact Kathleen Lotter in the Planetarium booking office and she will put you in touch with me. I would like to feature various images of the June-July conjunction in our “Star of Bethlehem 2015” holiday show.
A Pluto Celebration
The Schouweiler Planetarium and The Fort Wayne Astronomical Society have, with assistance from TekVenture and Sky & Telescope Magazine, combined forces to produce a series of public informational experiences on Binary Dwarf Planet Pluto. The events are designed to inform and prepare area residents for the July 14 fly through of Pluto’s system of 5 moons by the New Horizons spacecraft.
After a ten-year, 3 Billion mile journey, New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever to launch from Earth, is currently on final approach to Pluto. At this writing, the piano sized spacecraft is performing as planned, its final fight path has been tweaked and the route through Pluto’s unknown space containing 5 moons seems clear of previously unknown objects.
Plan to join the Schouweiler Staff, and our Fort Wayne Astronomical Society colleagues for our July Pluto Celebration Events.
The Pluto Celebration is
Two Identical Free Public Evening Events
Event 1: Pluto Up Close and Personal
7:30 PM Thursday, July 2, 2015
University Campus, Gunderson Auditorium, Achatz Hall of Science & Schouweiler Planetarium
An evening of “All things Pluto,” Planetarium Staff and FWAS members presenting:
- Historical — More than a century of Pluto Lore, Facts and Discovery Stories
- Science —The IAU, why Pluto is now classified a Binary Dwarf Planet
- Our current understanding of the Solar System — the Sun to the Oort Cloud
- New Horizons Mission and Spacecraft — 1990’s through 2014
- New Horizons 2015 and Pluto the week of July 14
- What’s next for New Horizons — 2015-2020
- And take home handouts and information, courtesy of Sky and Telescope Magazine, door prizes, and perhaps a few surprises from a current New Horizons download.
Event 2: 7:30 PM Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Pluto Up Close and Personal
University Campus, Gunderson Auditorium, Achatz Hall of Science & Schouweiler Planetarium
An evening of “all things Pluto”
A repeat of the above —including door prizes— except the sharing of new data from New Horizons since the July 2nd Event.
Pluto Telescope Observing Attempts Clear Saturday Evenings in July
Starting at dusk at the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society observatory site, Jefferson Township Park, rural New Haven: “Attempts” is the Keyword here, hope would be another key word.
Pluto is an extremely difficult object to locate in smaller telescopes, however it is within reach of the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society’s 16-inch Richard Johnson Telescope. The task is more daunting this year because Pluto is in the same part of the sky as our Galaxy, the Milky Way. In other words, Pluto will be one tiny dot of light among many tiny dots of light in the telescope.
Never the less, at least one attempt will be made every clear Saturday night in July. So come out anyway. Depending upon your arrival time, there are 3 additional planets to see, all beautiful, some with moons, rings and big enough to see their shape in the telescope. Many other possible objects too: double stars, nebula, and star clusters, the list goes on.
Click here for the FWAS Web Site for complete info, map and directions as well as weather disclaimers for Saturday night viewing every clear Saturday, April through November at their JTP observatory.
Pluto-New Horizons Updates During All Planetarium 3 Rivers Festival Shows
Pluto New Horizons Updates will be part of all 8 Schouweiler Planetarium Three Rivers Festival shows, both weekends, Family Matinees and Evening Shows.
The Public Programs page of this Planetarium Website will have the detailed 3-Rivers show schedule and details posted by Tuesday June 30.
The Pluto Celebration partners may decide to sponsor additional Pluto-New Horizons events later in the year and beyond. After Pluto, New Horizons will head on to one or more other dwarf planets of the near Kuiper Belt. Hopefully the mission and spacecraft will continue to be funded into the future until its Department of Energy plutonium power unit is spent. In the mean time, as it continues its journey to the next target, it will take from late summer 2015 for up to 2 years to stream all the uncompressed data it collected during its 2+ days in Pluto space. More unexpected surprises will certainly come from this 2-year data stream. After all, we are going “where no Earth machine has gone before.”