The Triad Admissions Academics Alumni & Friends Programs Resources Student Life

Physics Photo of the Week

September 2, 2005

Jupiter and Venus

Jupiter (top) and Venus are very close to each other in the sky this week.  Unfortunately, the power line cuts right across the center of the photo, but time was of the essence, so I could not relocate to a better sight. 

These two planets are "playing tag" in the sky and will be visible for several days in the low western sky soon after sunset.  Notice the sky is lighter nearer to the horizon - typical of the after sunset.  Watch Venus (currently closer to the horizon) become higher in the coming days and soon will be higher in the sky than Jupiter.  Jupiter soon will be setting at sunset as it goes on the opposite side of the sun.

This scene should become very interesting the next clear evening beginning Sunday, Sept. 4 as the thin crescent moon joins the scene.  Look in the western sky at about 8:30 pm during the next few evenings to watch these planets.  I will be taking photos at every opportunity.

At right is a diagram of the positions of the planets, the earth, and the sun with the arrows showing the direction of motion around the sun.  Because the earth orbits the sun faster than Jupiter, the earth and Jupiter will soon be on opposite sides of the sun making Jupiter out of sight for a couple of months.

A word about the weather.  I made this photo Wednesday evening, August 31, soon after Hurricane Katrina hit the southern US gulf coast and after the remnants of the storm passed through central US.  Severe cyclones often leave the area with exceptionally clear air.  This passage of the storm provided the first clear air in many weeks of a hazy summer.  It's ironic that such a vicious storm is "needed" to clear the air.

Finally, a word about Mars.  Many people had seen chain-type e-mails indicating that Mars would be closest to the earth in thousands of years on Aug 27, 2005.  That chain letter was erroneous.  Mars will not be at its closest to earth this year until sometime in October.  On Aug 27, 2003 (two years ago) Mars had its closest approach in thousands of years.  See the website:

Donald F. Collins

Physics Photo of the Week
is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department.  These photos feature an interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation.  Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome.  Please send any photos to

Click here to see all Physics Photo of the Week for 2005