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Look to the night sky for a dose of awe as Venus and Jupiter dance

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For many stargazers, this evening is a great time to go outside and experience the emotion known as awe because two of our solar system's planets are putting on a spectacular show right now. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff explains.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Last night after dinner, I went outside to take care of our chickens, and I literally gasped. I was like, oh, my gosh, it's so beautiful. These two bright objects are so close to each other.

DIANA HANNIKAINEN: You know, I think it's absolutely glorious. I mean, that's exactly what we want to elicit. It's that sense of wonder.

DOUCLEFF: That's Diana Hannikainen. She's an editor at Sky Telescope (ph) magazine. She says what I saw last night were Jupiter and Venus.

HANNIKAINEN: There is no way that you'll miss these two bright lights in the sky.

DOUCLEFF: They are the brightest celestial objects besides the moon in the sun. Jackie Faherty is an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History. She says, right now, Jupiter and Venus are doing a little dance.

JACKIE FAHERTY: There's something happening here in our sky right now. They've been up. They've been bright. They've been getting closer and closer to each other for the past month.

DOUCLEFF: The two planets are actually very, very far apart in space.

FAHERTY: They're actually 400 million miles away from each other.

DOUCLEFF: But currently, Venus is passing Jupiter, which, up in our sky, makes them look very close. So tonight, right after sunset, go outside and look west above the horizon. They will be so close that they will almost appear to be having...

FAHERTY: A little nighttime kiss.

DOUCLEFF: And while looking up, try something new. Pause and focus on how extraordinary the universe is, how far away these planets are, how mysterious they are and how small you are.

MICHELLE SHIOTA: And to the extent that you can look at that sky and think, wow, that's big. That's so much bigger than me. That's so much bigger than my life and my problems, however real those problems are.

DOUCLEFF: That's Michelle Shiota. She's a psychologist at Arizona State University. She says that's the feeling of awe, which gives us perspective and is humbling.

SHIOTA: And seems to just help us calm down a little bit in a powerful way.

DOUCLEFF: Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.