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Best Conjunction of the Year

3-11-11 Venus and Jupiter ESO
This conjunction in 2009 featured Venus and Jupiter. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

One of the prettier and easier sights to see in the night sky is when two bright planets come within close range of each other. Jupiter and Mercury create the best conjunction of the year on March 15 when they lie just two degrees apart in the evening sky in the west. You can start looking this weekend after the sun has set. Jupiter will be the first planet you’ll see because of how bright it is, even though it is low in the glow of sunset. Mercury is the point of light just below it. On March 14, the planets are just a little more than two degrees away and nearly side by side, which is also worth a look, especially if skies are forecasted to be cloudy the next evening. By March 16, Mercury will be the planet farther from the horizon.

Conjunctions are a great opportunity for novice photographers to catch a beautiful image of the sky. No special equipment is needed, and with the event occurring during dusk, there will still be enough light in the sky to provide a scenic foreground.

Another event this weekend is the 230-year anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus, on March 13, 1871. As you’re looking at the Jupiter/Mercury conjunction, even farther below them, skimming the horizon at sunset, is the planet Uranus. But because Uranus is so much dimmer and in a still-glowing sky, the planet cannot be seen.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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