You can watch Mars and Jupiter appear to practically high-five each other in the early-morning sky this weekend with the bright planets reaching their closest on Monday (May 29).
Mars and Jupiter will appear only 0.6 degrees apart in the eastern-southeastern sky, in the constellation Pisces, about 45 minutes before dawn local time, according to NASA (opens in new tab). They will get at their closest at 4:57 am EDT (0857 GMT) on Monday, although you can also see them relatively close on Tuesday (May 30). Venus and Saturn will also be visible near the super-close planets.
These close approaches “never fail to impress during observations, particularly when the gas giants are involved,” Mitzi Adams, an astronomer and researcher at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in the agency statement Thursday (May 26).
Jupiter will be the brighter of the pair, shining at magnitude -2.2, while Mars will be at a still respectable 0.7. (By comparison, the faintest stars usually visible by the human eye are magnitude 6, and the full moon shines at magnitude -12.6. Magnitude is the scale astronomers use to measure an object’s brightness in the sky.)
The two planets are appearing so close because they travel on the plane of the solar system, also known as the ecliptic. The moon, sun and major planets appear to therefore pass across the same pathway in Earth’s sky, and sometimes produce eclipses when one world passes across another (or the moon moves into our planet’s shadow during a lunar eclipse).
But in reality, as NASA points out, both planets are millions of miles (or kilometers) away from us. Mars will be roughly 136 million miles (219 million km) from Earth, while Jupiter is four times further. By comparison, the Earth-sun distance is 93 million miles (150 km).
See Venus and the moon?
If you take a photograph of Mars and Jupiter let us know! You can send images and comments in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conjunctions are very common in Earth’s sky and as summer approaches, you should be able to see as many as five naked-eye planets in the predawn sky all at once: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. (Strong telescopes may also show Uranus and Neptune.)
If you’re looking for binoculars or a telescope to see planets in the night sky, check our our guide for the best binoculars deals and the best telescope deals now. If you need equipment, consider our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography to prepare for the next planet sight.