Venus and Jupiter planetary conjunction gives skywatchers a Canada Day treat

Skywatchers will get a special treat as two of the brightest planets visible from Earth — Venus and Jupiter — appear huddled together in a planetary conjunction on July 1.

Venus and Jupiter will appear huddled together in a planetary conjunction visible to the naked eye

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      Canada Day fireworks aren't the only sparkle to watch for in the sky Wednesday night.

      Skywatchers will get a special treat as the two brightest planets visible from Earth — Venus and Jupiter — are converging.

      "It is a real cosmic treat," said Andrew Fazekas, a science writer and broadcaster who blogs as The Night Sky Guy.

      Planetary conjunctions occur when two planets are lined up in their orbits in a way that makes them appear to be huddled together.

      "This is an optical illusion," said Fazekas. "These two planets aren't really that close."

      Venus is roughly 90 million kilometres from Earth, and Jupiter is more than 965 million kilometres away.

      Over the last few months, the two planets have appeared to be inching closer to each other. On Wednesday night, they will be at their closest, both visible in a single view field through binoculars or a small telescope. 

      "It's very eye catching," said Fazekas.

      NASA's New Horizons spacecraft took this images of Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, in early 2007. Io is Jupiter's fourth largest moon and should be visible with binoculars during tonight's planetary conjunction. (Johns Hopkins University/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA)

      What to look for 

      According to Fazekas, people will be able to see the planets very easily with the naked eye about a half hour after sunset, even through light pollution downtown. They just need to have a clear view of the western sky.

      Venus will look like a beautiful bright star, and on its upper right will be Jupiter.

      Binoculars will provide a more detailed look at the planets, and the ability to check out Jupiter's moons.

      "If you hold your binoculars steady enough, you can even see the four largest moons that circle Jupiter," said Fazekas.

      "They look like a little row of ducks, little pinpoints of light next to Jupiter."

      A small telescope will provide even greater views of Venus — which will be shaped as a quarter moon — and of Jupiter's cloud belt where storms rage.

      If that doesn't satiate your celestial viewing tonight, Fazekas says point your telescope to the southern sky for a good look at Saturn, which he calls "the true lord of the rings."

      To the naked eye, Saturn appears as a bright yellow star in the southern sky. Through a telescope, however, you can see the planet's rings clearly — which are tilted 25 degrees towards Earth — and even its largest moon, Titan.

      "Even the smallest telescope will reveal those majestic rings around it," said Fazekas.

      "Saturn always makes people go, 'Wow.' I call it the wow planet."

      In this planetary conjunction, the planets Venus (top left), and Jupiter (top right) form a triangle with the moon. On January 31, Venus and Mars will form their own triangle with the moon. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

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