How to watch Mars, Venus, and Jupiter come together in a rare close encounter this week
A celestial event happening this week will be so bright even people in bright cities like New York City, will get to see it — as long as the morning skies remain clear of clouds.
The two brightest planets in the night sky, Venus and Jupiter, plus the dimmest, Mars, will appear to pass extremely close to one another all of this week.
This close encounter is called a triple planetary conjunction and we won't see another one like it until January 2021.
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The apparent distance between Venus and Jupiter will be so small Tuesday morning that you could take your thumb and place it over both Jupiter and Venus and completely cover them.
The best time to see this rare celestial event is just before sunrise because that's when the three planets are high above the horizon but it's still dark enough to spot all three of them.
On its own, Mars is hard to identify because it is small and not very bright. However, you should be able to spot the red-tinted point because it will be extremely close to Venus and Jupiter — some of the brightest points in the sky.
As the planets move across the sky this week, they will trace a triangle that will grow increasingly small until it's only about 5 degrees wide, or the width of your three middle fingers. If you have a typical pair of binoculars, all three planets will fit inside your field of view.
Here's how they'll look this week, with Venus and Jupiter passing one another as the week progresses:
To see this awesome event, all you have to do is go outside before sunrise and look up toward the eastern horizon. The two bright specks of Venus and Jupiter along the easter horizon are a dead giveaway.
While binoculars or a telescope will give you a better view of the planets, you should be able to spot all three with the unaided eye.
And if you're extra diligent you might even be able to identify a fourth planet: Mercury.
"As dawn brightens, look for a fourth planet, Mercury, lurking way down near the horizon below the other three," Sky and Telescope reports. "Don't delay; Mercury is sinking lower day by day."
Throughout the entire month of October, the three planets — Venus, Mars, and Jupiter — have been inching ever-closer.
Despite their apparent close encounters, the three planets will not actually collide or pass close to each other in space. They only appear to do so because of their locations in the night sky.
Right now Venus is about 65 million miles from Earth; Jupiter is 560 million miles from Earth; and Mars is about 207 million miles away.
Of the three planets, Venus is the closest to Earth and, therefore, the brightest. While Jupiter is much farther than Mars, it is more than 20 times larger, which is why it's so much brighter. Moreover, the surface of Mars is less reflective than either Jupiter or Venus, which also explains why it is so dim.
If you get any shots of the conjunction, send them with a description, your name, and location to our science team at email@example.com and we might feature them on our site.
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