Although no one likes getting up early, the morning of February 1 will be worth the effort. Just before local dawn, the scene is set as brilliant planets Venus and Jupiter rise together ahead of sunrise. The planetary pair will be so close together they can easily fit in the same binocular field of view and in a low power, wide field telescope eyepiece. Even if you don’t use optical aid, the dazzling duet will capture the eye….
“Your eye is like a digital camera,” explains Dr. Stuart Hiroyasu, O.D., of Bishop, California. “There’s a lens in front to focus the light, and a photo-array behind the lens to capture the image. The photo-array in your eye is called the retina. It’s made of rods and cones, the fleshy organic equivalent of electronic pixels.” Near the center of the retina lies the fovea, a patch of tissue 1.5 millimeters wide where cones are extra-densely packed. “Whatever you see with the fovea, you see in high-definition,” he says. The fovea is critical to reading, driving, watching television. The fovea has the brain’s attention. The field of view of the fovea is only about five degrees wide. On Friday morning, Venus and Jupiter will fit together inside that narrow angle, signaling to the brain, “this is worth watching!”
But Venus and Jupiter aren’t the only pair sparkling the pre-dawn skies. If you look a bit further south, you’ll notice that the waning Moon and Antares are also making a spectacular show! While they will be separated by a little more distance, the red giant and earthshine Moon will still fit within the eye’s fovea – and a binocular field of view!
Where will all the celestial action take place? Look no further than the ecliptic plane – the imaginary path the Sun, Moon and planets take across the sky. For many observers, the ecliptic plane begins low in the southeast – but southern hemisphere viewers have a much different view! But don’t wait until Friday to have a look. If you’re up before dawn, step outside and watch as Venus and Jupiter draw closer together over the next several days and the Moon creeps to the east. On February 3, the Moon will form a line-up with the two planets and a striking triangle on the morning of February 4. Be sure to have a camera on hand and share your photos!
Wishing you clear skies….