If you head outside a half-hour after sunset this week, you can spot the largest and smallest* planets in our solar system right next to each other. The giant planet Jupiter is just ending its months-long appearance in the sky, slipping slowly down towards the sun. This week, the tiny planet Mercury is moving upwards from the horizon, putting in a quick appearance before also disappearing into the sun’s glare. On March 1`4th and 15th, the two planets will be about 2 degrees apart – that’s only about the width of four full moons in the sky. They’ll easily fit into the field of view of pretty much any household binoculars.
If you watch them from night to night, you’ll see the clockwork dance of the heavens: Mercury and Jupiter will change their relative positions from night to night, not just due to their own motion but that of our planet as well. The ground you’re standing on is part of this ballet, orbiting the sun along with Mercury and Jupiter.
*Yes, Mercury is the smallest planet which orbits the Sun; Pluto is still a “dwarf planet” along with Eris and Ceres.