If clouds obscure your view Monday, don’t fret. The proximate planets will be visible nearby for the next few nights, albeit at a slightly greater distance from each other.
For those looking to enjoy the show, telescopes aren’t required. Simply look to the west-southwest about 30 minutes after sunset. Jupiter will shine brightly to the left, with Saturn, a touch dimmer, adjacent to the right.
They will appear extremely close — only about a quarter the width of the full moon apart from each other.
To make the show even more spectacular, the half-illuminated moon will shine high above and to the left of the two planets, with Mars even farther up along that diagonal line.
Where clouds may interfere
Over the Great Lakes, northern Ohio Valley and interior Northeast, low pressure will bring widespread clouds and a few showers to some, obscuring the spectacle. Tuesday night may offer better viewing for eastern New England, but clouds might still stubbornly reign over New York state and the northern Appalachians.
Some places are right on the fringe of cloud cover and could be a bit iffy. That’s the case for Washington, St. Louis and Omaha.
In the D.C. area, mostly cloudy skies are most likely to prevail, but a few breaks could allow for glimpses, especially to its south. Tuesday night offers better viewing prospects.
A pocket of moisture around 30,000 feet above ground may bring high clouds to portions of the Gulf Coast on Monday night, too, but there is a chance the veil of cloud cover may be thin enough to permit some sporadic viewing.
Most of the Southeast should be free of clouds, though, allowing for opportune enjoyment of fleeting conjunction.
Other areas with favorable viewing conditions include the Desert Southwest, the Four Corners region, the Plains and the Ozarks.
The Pacific Northwest and northern Intermountain West will probably face restricted viewing, a developing low-pressure system sweeping ashore tonight. It will bring broad cloudiness and rain at low elevations, while parts of the Cascades and northern Rockies can expect a healthy dose of accumulating snowfall.
Areas that were clouded over in western Idaho, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington on Monday may also have improved chances to see the conjunction on Tuesday night.
How rare is this conjunction?
According to Space.com, Monday night marks the closest visible conjunction of the two celestial bodies since March 5, 1226. Close passes of the planets are a routine happening, occurring every two decades or so. Only on rare occasions are their skyward reunions this close.
The next similarly close conjunction will be in 2080.
There was an even closer conjunction on July 16,1623, but it was not visible in temperate latitudes according to Space.com.
Some have remarked that Monday night’s conjunction could bear a striking resemblance to the “star of Bethlehem” or the “Christmas star,” which, according to biblical teachings, guided three wise men to Bethlehem preceding the birth of Jesus. It was initially believed that the iconic star may have actually been a conjunction similar to Monday night’s, but astronomical calculations have proved that theory unlikely.
Conjunctions between planets are not overly rare. On June 30, 2015, Venus and Jupiter nearly sideswiped each other in the western sky. That conjunction, an even brighter one, comes around every 15 years or so.