Image: Venus and Jupiter
Marek Nikodem
Jupiter is on the left and Venus is on the right in this picture, taken by Marek Nikodem of Szubin, Poland, at nightfall on March 12. "They are like two lanterns illuminating the darkness," Nikodem told SpaceWeather.com. "It's a wonderful sight."
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updated 3/14/2012 9:13:50 PM ET 2012-03-15T01:13:50

After creeping toward each other steadily for the last few months, Venus and Jupiter finally came together in what astronomers call a planetary conjunction Tuesday, putting on a spectacular show for skywatchers around the world.

The two planets lit up the night sky in tandem, appearing so close together that observers could blot them both out with just a few fingers held at arm's length. And they provided a lasting display, blazing bright above the western horizon for hours at mid-northern latitudes.

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The celestial action Tuesday peaked when Jupiter and Venus lined up just 3 degrees apart in the night sky. (Your clenched fist held at arm's length measures about 10 degrees).

The show is not over, however. While the two bright planets have now begun moving away from each other in the sky, they'll remain quite close together for the next several days. [ Great Skywatcher Photos of Venus and Jupiter ]

Wednesday night, for example, they'll be separated by just 3.1 degrees. By Thursday, the gap between them will have extended to about 3.5 degrees. Somewhat confusingly, Jupiter and Venus also technically come into conjunction on Thursday, when they line up in another set of celestial coordinates (though they will appear farther apart then to observers on the ground than they did Tuesday).

Venus-Jupiter conjunctions are fairly special events, occurring roughly every 13 months. This year's was especially stunning, experts say, because the two planets were visible for so long in the sky and appeared so bright.

Though Jupiter is about 11 times wider than the roughly Earth-size Venus, Venus appears about eight times more luminous these days. That's because Venus is so much closer to us than Jupiter is. On average, Earth orbits 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from the sun, a distance defined as 1 astronomical unit (AU). Venus zips around our star at about 0.72 AU, while Jupiter is found roughly 5.2 AU from the sun.

So while the two planets appear close together in the night sky, in reality they're nowhere near each other. The orbits of Venus and Jupiter are separated by Earth, Mars and the main asteroid belt.

Tolga Bermek
Venus and Jupiter shine above the city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday in this photo snapped by skywatcher Tolga Bermek.

Though Venus has now wrapped up its celestial dance with Jupiter, it will provide another skywatching treat in just a few months. On June 5, Venus will cross the face of the sun from Earth's perspective, appearing as a tiny black dot against the face of our star.

Such Venus transits occur fewer than two times per century, on average. After June 5, the next one will take place in 2117.

To see more of Marek Nicodem's photography, check out his OnePhoto gallery.

If you snap an amazing photo of Venus and Jupiter, or any other skywatching target, and would like to share it for a possible story or image gallery, please contact Space.com managing editor Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com.

You can follow Space.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow Space.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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