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Cosmic Conjunction: Venus, Jupiter to converge with each other

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

A stunning close encounter of the two brightest star-like objects in the sky is expected this week.

Venus, the brightest object in the sky and Jupiter, the largest planet -will huddle close together in the sunset skies this week.

This will be the planets’ nearest approach in over a decade.

Over the past several weeks, both worlds have been slowly converging and on June 30, and July 1, they will reach their tightest grouping, separated by less than half a degree.

The distance between the planets will be so minute that onlookers will be able to cover both planets with just their pinky held at arm’s length.

The celestial meetup known as conjunction is the second in a series of three between Venus and Jupiter in over a year.

Even though conjunctions are not that rare, this particular series between the cosmic duo is the best in about 15 years.

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Photo showing Venus and Jupiter nearing a conjunction (Image courtesy Flickr)

 

Historically Venus and Jupiter conjunctions may be a possible answer to the Star of Bethlehem legend.

In the years 2 and 3 B.C., there was a similar series of three stunningly close pairings between the planets that would have caught the eye of ancient astronomers.

The best bet to catch sight of the pretty pairing is to look westward and high in the sky beginning a half hour after local sunset.

As darkness falls, beacon-like Venus will make its appearance first. Both planets shine so brilliantly, that observers should have no problem spotting them at dusk.

Venus will appear about 6 times brighter than Jupiter even though it’s only a tenth the size.

That’s because Venus is eternally enshrouded with highly reflective white clouds and is much closer to Earth. It’s about 56 million miles (90 million kilometers) away while Jupiter is much more distant—some 550 million miles (890 million kilometers).

Hence, their apparent proximity to each other is just an optical illusion.

You will be able to spot Venus’s disk, which resembles a miniature version of a quarter moon with even the smallest of backyard telescopes.

With Jupiter, high magnification will showcase its dark cloud belts and four of its largest moons, sitting beside the planet like a row of ducks.

Both planets will be lost in the glare of the sunset by the end of the month and will reappear in late August as bright morning stars visible before dawn.

However, Venus and Jupiter will offer one last opportunity for an amazing photo at dusk.

As a grand finale, the planets will be joined by the razor-thin crescent moon on July 18th.

This offers a perfect opportunity for night sky lovers to catch the three brightest nighttime celestial objects huddled together, all in the same field of view.

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Astronomers Have Found a Cloud Free Planet Outside Our Solar System

Just like an individual's fingerprints are unique, atoms and molecules have a unique spectral characteristic that can be used to detect their presence in celestial objects.

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Astronomers have found that a planet outside our solar system, which is similar to Saturn in mass and exceeds the size of Jupiter by 20 per cent, has an atmosphere free of clouds.
Astronomers during IAU meet, wikimedia commons

Astronomers have found that a planet outside our solar system, which is similar to Saturn in mass and exceeds the size of Jupiter by 20 per cent, has an atmosphere free of clouds.

The hot gas giant, WASP-96b, periodically transits a Sun-like star 980 light years away in the southern constellation Phoenix.

Using the the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, the team studied the atmosphere of WASP-96b when the planet passed in front of its host-star.

This enabled the team to measure the decrease of starlight caused by the planet and its atmosphere, and thereby determine the planet’s atmospheric composition.

“We’ve been looking at more than twenty exoplanet transit spectra. WASP-96b is the only exoplanet that appears to be entirely cloud-free and shows such a clear sodium signature, making the planet a benchmark for characterisation,” said lead author of the study Nikolay Nikolov from University of Exeter in Britain.

Just like an individual’s fingerprints are unique, atoms and molecules have a unique spectral characteristic that can be used to detect their presence in celestial objects.

The spectrum of WASP-96b shows the complete fingerprint of sodium, which can only be observed for an atmosphere free of clouds, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

The spectrum of WASP-96b shows the complete fingerprint of sodium, which can only be observed for an atmosphere free of clouds, according to the study published in the journal Nature.
Planets and solar system, Pixabay

It has long been predicted that sodium exists in the atmospheres of hot gas-giant exoplanets, and in a cloud-free atmosphere it would produce spectra that are similar in shape to the profile of a camping tent.

“Until now, sodium was revealed either as a very narrow peak or found to be completely missing. This is because the characteristic ‘tent-shaped’ profile can only be produced deep in the atmosphere of the planet and for most planet clouds appear to get in the way,” Nikolov added.

Clouds and hazes are known to exist in some of the hottest and coldest solar system planets and exoplanets.

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The presence or absence of clouds and their ability to block light plays an important role in the overall energy budget of planetary atmospheres.

“It is difficult to predict which of these hot atmospheres will have thick clouds. By seeing the full range of possible atmospheres, from very cloudy to nearly cloud-free like WASP-96b, we’ll gain a better understanding of what these clouds are made of,” explains study co-author Jonathan Fortney, Professor at University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), US. (IANS)