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Hundreds view Jupiter and Venus at St. Petersburg College's Gibbs campus

A jet flies in front of Jupiter and Venus as they appear in a conjunction Tuesday night. A conjunction is when two or more planets or other celestial objects seem very close together in the sky. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times] 
A jet flies in front of Jupiter and Venus as they appear in a conjunction Tuesday night. A conjunction is when two or more planets or other celestial objects seem very close together in the sky. [JIM DAMASKE | Times] 
Published Jul. 2, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG -— When only a few stars speckle the night sky, Joyce Fosdick misses their companions. When her children were little, she and her husband, Charles, taught them to spot constellations and late-summer shooting stars. When her grandchildren came along, she would sing to them, "I see the moon, and the moon sees me. God bless the moon, and God bless me."

Now 82, Fosdick drove from Largo to St. Petersburg College's Gibbs campus Wednesday not to see stars but planets in the western sky. This week, Venus and Jupiter drew ever closer until they were less than a full moon's width apart. The observatory offered its telescopes to the public, for free, so they could see the rare celestial show.

On Tuesday, the night the planets were closest, 300 to 400 people waited hours for their turn on the college's observatory deck. On Wednesday, astronomer Craig Joseph brought the telescopes outside the building so even more stargazers could join.

Just after sunset, as the sky faded to a watery blue, Jupiter and Venus emerged, two stark pinpricks of light that hung alone in the sky. Parents crouched beside children and pointed into the blue.

"See that bright spot that looks like a star?" one mother said.

An 8-year-old boy squinted at the sky. "It's so small! How is that a planet?" he asked.

Fosdick patiently waited her turn. She bent toward the eyepiece and squinted, then smiled.

There was Venus, a bright white crescent, almost iridescent through the telescope lens.

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321.