According to NASA, on June 30 Jupiter and Venus “will be a jaw-dropping 1/3rd of a degree apart,” and from our earthly perspective will appear as a single bright star illuminating the night sky.
This dazzling and rare display has been culminating since the beginning of June, giving those in the know a chance to witness the two inch closer together with each successive evening.
Jupiter and Venus and the Star of Bethlehem?
Tonight’s unique orbital alignment of Jupiter and Venus is so rare, in fact, that Sky & Telescope is going so far as to suggest that the last time these two planets converged as closely as they will tonight was in 3-2 BC, possibly inspiring the Biblical Star of Bethlehem narrative:
Sky & Telescope Contributing Editor Fred Schaaf brings up a very interesting point: this current trio of Venus-Jupiter conjunctions closely resembles a similar series in 3-2 BC that has been suggested as the Star of Bethlehem. “As has been the case in 2014–15,” he explains, “the first two conjunctions back then were extremely close, the last one separated by about 1°, all three occurred not far from Regulus, and all were similarly high up in the sky.”
Sky & Telescope also goes on to explain that viewing Jupiter and Venus with a telescope will reveal more than just a bright star in the sky: “Both planets will crowd into same telescopic field of view, Venus appearing as a fat crescent and round Jupiter accompanied by its four large moons. The two planets will appear nearly as the same size, but Jupiter, though much larger in reality, is much farther away…. Their globes will contrast dramatically in brightness, with Venus’s crescent appearing dazzling white compared to Jupiter’s duller, striped cloud deck.”
In the least, be sure to step out during the early evening hours and look to the west-northwest. The next time Jupiter and Venus get this close to each other (and still not as close as tonight) will be March 1, 2023.
[UPDATE] Thanks to photographers Sarah and Simon Fisher, here is an image taken on June 30th featuring the near convergence of Jupiter and Venus:
The original image can be found here.