There’s something special about conjunctions. They’re surreal, like laughter in a dark hallway. Rather suddenly, two or more celestial luminaries come together. The pattern lasts a single night. You’ll never see it again – not exactly.
The year’s best happens now. It’s a four-way affair that involves the night’s brightest luminaries. The Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Aldebaran all come together at 4:30 a.m. this Sunday, July 15.
Start with that Crescent Moon, which always conveys a hint of lunacy – especially this waning crescent with its surrealistic slant. Illuminated on the left side, it’s a specter confined to the pre-dawn hours normally reserved for REM sleep. Earthshine eerily makes its dark portion fluoresce.
Below that enchanted Moon floats Venus, the Morning Star. This is Venus at its most luminous. At a supernal magnitude -4.7, it’s an amazing 75 times brighter than Vega: the most brilliant star that’s out, in the west. Venus is easily brilliant enough to cast shadows.
The uppermost luminary is Jupiter, returning for its annual nine-month visibility window after hiding behind the Sun. The fourth participant is the orange giant Aldebaran. Though the 13th-brightest star in the heavens, it’s dwarfed by the brilliance of the others.
As insurance against clouds, observe the Venus/Aldebaran/Jupiter meeting tomorrow or the first morning, though the Moon will be elsewhere except on Sunday. You’ll also enjoy lots of meteors. The Perseid shower is several weeks away, but ample “sporadic” meteors materialize every morning before dawn. The rate is one every ten minutes. That’s because the direction that Earth is heading in its orbit is then high overhead, which makes the air above your location plow through the maximum number.
Venus’ wonderful apparition will linger through the autumn. But its maximum brilliance is confined to July alone. By summer’s end, the morning star will have lost half its light. So as they say on TV, “Hurry out – this offer won’t last!”
Venus at its most glorious; a streaking meteor every few minutes; the year’s best conjunction; the straight-ahead direction for our celestial travels; Morning Star shadows – and this entire tapestry unfolds in the enchanted predawn stillness. It evaporates only when birdsong and Crayola colors steal the show.
Sunday morning in the east at 4:30: It’s the stuff of dreams – worth setting an alarm to trade it for yours.