‘Double star’ moment for Jupiter and Venus in the night sky

Posted at 11:25 AM, Jun 30, 2015

(CNN) — Put down the cell phone. Go outside. Look up.

Tuesday night, Jupiter and Venus will culminate a month-long dance with what astronomers say will be a dazzling display, appearing just a fraction of a degree apart from one another in the night sky — a show that some astronomers say could account for the “Star of Bethlehem” mentioned in the Bible.

“To the eye they’ll look like a double star,” Sky & Telescope editor Kelly Beatty said on the magazine’s website.

To see the lineup, look to the west-northwest shortly after sunset.

This isn’t a particularly rare event; such conjunctions are fairly frequent, thanks to how Earth and the two planets line up in the solar system, according to Sky & Telescope.

But the combination of how close the planets will appear — one-third of a degree — the viewing angle at many latitudes and the time of day make this a particularly special event that ranks “very highly” among conjunctions, Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan wrote on his website.

Although the planets will appear to draw near one another in August and again in October, the next such event to rival Tuesday night’s won’t happen until 2023, he said.

And although the two planets will appear to be close together, in reality, millions of miles of empty space separate them.

The lineup won’t have any impact on Earth or anything else in the solar system, except scads of folks looking up for a better view, Sky & Telescope senior editor Alan MacRobert said.

“These planetary groupings in the sky have no effect on Earth or human affairs — except for one,” he said. “They can lift our attention away from our own little world into the enormous things beyond.”