Watch Venus Brush Past Saturn This Weekend

Venus rising over the Catalinas near Tucson, Arizona on January 3rd. Image credit: Rob Sparks (@halfastro)

Welcome to 2016! The early morning sky is where the action is this first week of the year. We were out early this Monday morning as skies cleared over Central Florida on our yearly vigil for the Quadrantid meteors. Though only a handful of meteors graced the dawn skies, we were treated to a splendid line-up, including Jupiter, Mars, Spica, Antares, Saturn, Venus, the waning crescent Moon AND a fine binocular view of Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina.We’re always a bit skeptical of the Quadrantids. Its slim peak, coupled with a relative dearth of bright meteors makes it the elusive ‘unicorn’ of annual major meteor showers. Occurring in the dead of northern hemisphere winter certainly doesn’t help the ‘Quads in the PR department.But there’s another reason to brave the cold this week, as two naked eye planets close in for one of the tightest conjunctions of 2016.Venus and Saturn pass just 5′ (that’s 1/6th the diameter of the Full Moon!) apart on the morning of Saturday, January 9th. The conjunction (sometimes called an appulse) occurs at around 4:00 Universal Time (UT). This is the second closest conjuction of two naked eye planets for 2016: only the 4′ pairing of Jupiter and Venus on August 27th narrowly beats it out for top billing.The January 9th conjunction occurs 36 degrees west of the Sun in the morning sky: expect the pair to be visible in the dawn low to the east, about two hours prior to sunrise. Venus shines at magnitude -4.0 with a 80% illuminated disk 14” across, while Saturn is nearly a hundred times fainter at magnitude +0.6 with a 15” diameter disk, 36” across if you count the span of its rings.You’ll be able to spy both Saturn and Venus in the same telescopic —> Read More