On Wednesday (Jan. 25), the moon will meet the solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter, in the night sky. The two astronomical objects will share the same right ascension on the sky in an arrangement that astronomers call a “conjunction.” At the same time, the moon and Jupiter will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse.
According to In-the-Sky (opens in new tab), the 5-day-old waxing crescent moon will pass less than 2 degrees south of Jupiter during the conjunction, while the two objects will be in the constellation of Pisces. The moon will have a magnitude of -11.2 and Jupiter -2.2, with the minus prefix pointing to particularly bright objects above the Earth.
From New York City, the moon-Jupiter conjunction and their approach will become visible around 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT on January 26) and the two objects will set around 10:00 PM EST (0300 GMT) on January 26 ).
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During the conjunction, the moon and Jupiter will still be too far apart to be seen with a telescope, despite appearing close to each other to the naked eye. However, the conjunction will be observable with binoculars and observers in good viewing conditions should be able to see the arrangement without optical aids.
Jupiter is not the only planet in the solar system to have a regular conjunction with the moon. Because the moon moves quickly along an imaginary line in the sky called the ecliptic, which takes it past the constellations, lunar conjunctions with the planets of the solar system occur about once a month.
The planets of the solar system move much more slowly along the ecliptic, which means that the conjunctions between the planets, while they do occur, are much rarer.
For example, a major conjunction is a conjunction between Jupiter and its fellow gas giant Saturn that occurs approximately every 20 years. During a major conjunction, Jupiter overtakes Saturn in its orbit.
Even rarer are conjunctions between Uranus and Neptune which take 84 years and 165 years respectively to complete a journey across the constellations. This means that a conjunction between the two planets only occurs once every 171 years, according to In the air (opens in new tab).
The next planetary conjunction for Jupiter is with Venus on March 2, 2023. Before that, the moon will meet Mars at a conjunction on January 31, 2023.
If you’re hoping to see the moon-Jupiter conjunction, our guide to the best binoculars is a good place to start, as the two objects are too far apart for a telescope to see. If you want to study both objects separately, Space.com’s guide to the best telescopes can be helpful. For skywatchers looking to take photos of the night sky, check out our guide to photographing the moon, as well as our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor’s Note: If you get a good picture of the moon-Jupiter conjunction and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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