Wake up very early, 3.30 a.m. to be precise, on January 7 to see Mars and Jupiter side by side. If you continue your Sunday slumber, you will have to wait 15 more years to witness a better version of the event.
Ajay Talwar, an astrophotographer and the India Representative in The World At Night (TWAN), a project that features images of the night sky, explained this celestial conjunction in an email interview with The Hindu.
How close will the two planets be?
Jupiter and Mars are far from each other in space, but as seen from Earth, the two bright planets will seem to rise together in a celestial conjunction, on January 7, 2018. At their closest, the apparent separation between the two would be just 12 minutes of arc, i.e. one-sixth of a degree. As a handy reference, the diameter of Moon is about 31 minutes of arc.
What time can I see the planets and which direction should I be looking at ?
Jupiter and Mars will rise after 2:30 a.m. in the constellation of Libra, close to the brightest star of Libra – Zubenelgenubi.
Observe around 3:30 a.m. towards the east-southeast and you will not be able to miss the planet pair. These days, in the age of smart phones, you can install a free app such as Sky Map to confirm Jupiter and Mars in the sky. You just need to point the phone towards the eastern direction.
When can I next see both these planets together?
This is quite a close conjunction between Jupiter and Mars. Although conjunctions between them would occur on March 20, 2020, May 29, 2022 and more, the next instance when they would be marginally closer than this time falls on December 1, 2033.
As you can see them only as brighter stars from Earth, here a few pictures to show you how the planets look up-close.
The pictures of Mars were taken by Curiosity Mars rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam); and those of Jupiter were taken bythe Juno space probe, orbiting Jupiter.