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Jupiter, Mars, Venus to stage rare spectacle

The bright planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars will appear to rendezvous in the evening sky for the next week, a rare spectacle. Anyone on Earth who looks to the west during the few hours after sunset through June 21 will see the planets within 3 degrees of each other _ roughly one-third the width of a fist held at arm's length against the sky.

The planets will be closest Monday evening, when they form a triangle only 1.8 degrees wide.

The last time they were closer than they are now was Dec. 23, 1769, said astronomer John Mosley of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

The best view will be Saturday evening, when the thin crescent moon will appear just to the left of the planets. From left to right in order of increasing brightness will be Mars, Jupiter and Venus.

The planets only appear close because they lie along the same line of sight from Earth. Venus is now 63-million miles from Earth, Mars is 203-million miles away and Jupiter 558-million miles, said Alan Dyer of Astronomy magazine.

An apparent grouping as tight as this month's is exceptionally rare, happening once every 120 years on average, Mosley said.