Mars and Venus are about to line up in the night sky, getting so close on Monday and Tuesday that they’ll almost seem to touch.
An astronomical event in which celestial bodies align in the sky like this is called a conjunction.
All month, Mars and Venus have been creeping nearer to one another. After sunset on Monday night, the two planets will appear so close together that a full moon couldn’t fit in between. That’s just a finger’s width apart if you hold your hand up to the sky, according to NASA.
The two planets will actually get closest together in the early hours of Tuesday morning, but daylight will make that impossible to see. So instead, people will have to wait until after the sun sets on Tuesday to see the two planets clustered together again. After that, the pair will start getting farther and farther apart.
To see the conjunction, go out soon after sunset and look west
To catch a glimpse of the conjunction, head out around twilight – 45 minutes to an hour after sunset. The two planets will be visible to the naked eye after the sun sinks low below the horizon.
Look toward the lowest part of the western sky, close to the horizon, underneath the crescent moon. Binoculars or a telescope could give you a better view if you have them. (Websites like Stellarium can help you orient a telescope in the right direction.)
If you’re on the East Coast, get outside before 10:07 p.m. local time, NASA says, because after that, Mars will start setting below the horizon, followed by Venus. (Venus sets about two hours after sunset.)
Mars and Venus are actually separated by 74.4 million miles, almost the distance between Earth and the sun.
The two planets will be easy to distinguish from one another in the sky because Venus shines about 190 times brighter than Mars, which also has appears reddish brown.
Fortunately, the moon will only be about 10% illuminated by the sun on Monday and Tuesday, which makes the alignment easier to see in clear skies.
This pair of planets won’t appear this close again until 2034
Planetary conjunctions aren’t uncommon. Last year, Jupiter and Saturn aligned in a “great conjunction,” appearing so close in the sky that they formed what looked like a double planet. Before that, those two planets had not appeared that close from Earth’s vantage point since March 4, 1226 – nearly 800 years ago.
The last time Mars and Venus where this close from Earth’s vantage point was on August 24, 2019. But that conjunction wasn’t visible because the duo was too close to the sun, according to Astronomy.com.
If you miss the upcoming conjunction, you can observe another Mars-Venus alignment on February 22, 2024. On that day, though, the two planets won’t look quite as close together as they will on Monday and Tuesday. To glimpse another conjunction like this one, Astronomy.com reports, you’ll have to wait until May 11, 2034.
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