Jupiter and the Full Snow Moon Come Together In a Beautiful Conjunction Tonight

The Full Moon celebrates Jupiter’s coming opposition by accompanying the bright planet in a beautiful conjunction tonight.

Even last night Jupiter and the Moon were close enough to attract attention. Tonight they’ll be even more striking. Two reasons for that. The Moon is full this evening and will have crept within 41/2° of the planet. They’ll rise together and roll together all night long.

The Full Snow Moon will share the sky with Jupiter in Cancer tonight not far from the Sickle or head of Leo the Lion. The map shows the scene around 8 o’clock local time. Source: Stellarium

February’s full moon is aptly named the Full Snow Moon as snowfall can be heavy this month. Just ask the folks in Chicago. The Cherokee Indians called it the “Bone Moon”, named for the tough times experienced by many Native Americans in mid-winter when food supplies ran low. With little left to eat people made use of everything including bones and bone marrow for soup.

Not only is the Full Moon directly opposite the Sun in the sky, rising around sunset and setting around sunrise, but in mid-winter they’re nearly on opposite ends of the celestial seesaw.

Jupiter, like tonight’s Full Moon, will be directly opposite the Sun this Friday and in “full moon” phase. Because both planets are lined up on the same side of the Sun, Jupiter will also be at its closest to us for the year. Credit: Bob King

In early February the Sun is still near its lowest point in the sky (bottom of the seesaw) for the northern half of  the globe. And while daylight is steadily increasing as the Sun moves northward, darkness still has the upper hand this month. Full Moons like tonight’s lie 180° opposite the Sun, placing the Moon near the top of the seesaw. Come early August, the Sun will occupy the Moon’s spot and the Full Moon will have slid down to the Sun’s current position. Yin and Yang folks.

Now here’s the interesting thing. Jupiter will also be in “full moon” phase when it reaches opposition this Friday Feb. 6.  Take a look at the diagram. From our perspective on Earth, Jupiter and the Sun lie on opposite sides of our planet 180° apart. As the Sun sets Friday, Jupiter will rise in the east and remain visible all night until setting around sunrise exactly like a Full Moon.

So in a funny way, we have two Full Moons this week only one’s a planet.

Like me, a lot of you enjoy a good moonrise. That golden-orange globe, the crazy squished appearance at rising and the transition to the bright, white, beaming disk that throws enough light on a winter night to ski in the forest without a headlamp. All good reasons to be alive.

If Jupiter were moved to the Moon’s distance it would span about 20 degrees or 40 times the apparent diameter of the Full Moon. Credit: Roscosmos with additions by the author

To find when the moon rises for your town, click over to this moonrise calculator. As you step outside tonight to get your required Moon and Jupiter-shine, consider the scene if we took neighboring Jupiter and placed it at the same distance as the Moon. A recent series of such scenes was released by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). I included one here and added the Moon for you to compare. Is Jupiter enormous or what?

Bob King

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob. My new book, "Wonders of the Night Sky You Must See Before You Die", a bucket list of essential sky sights, will publish in April. It's currently available for pre-order at Amazon and BN.

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