2020 is coming to a close with an astronomical event on the horizon – the great conjunction of planets Jupiter and Saturn. This year will see two giant planets of our solar system reunite after centuries. In fact, they will be so close that they will be separated by roughly one-fifth of the diameter of the full moon.
What is a Great Conjunction:
The Great Conjunction is an event that occurs every 19.6 years when the two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, appear closest together in the sky.
Jupiter takes nearly 12 years to orbit the sun, while Saturn takes a little more than 29 years. i.e., the two planets will only meet every 20 years when viewed from the Earth.
The last great conjunction was on May 28, 2000. The next occurrence will be on the day of Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year), December 21.
What’s so special about this year’s event? On this day Jupiter and Saturn will only be 0.1 degrees apart. This year’s event will be the closest since 1623 and the closest observable since 1226!
Don’t miss this event as the two planets will not appear this close in the sky until 2080. Do keep in mind that though the two planets may appear close, they will, in reality, be hundreds of millions of miles apart.
Some stargazers call this the Christmas Star as many believe that the biblical star of Bethlehem could have been the planetary conjunction of Venus and Jupiter.
When is the Great Conjunction:
You will be able to view the two planets together daily between December 12 and December 28. The closest approach of the great conjunction is on December 21, 2020.
In fact, they will be so close together that to an unaided eye they might appear as a single point of light. If you use a telescope, the two planets will be easily visible and noticeable as two bright stars next to each other. Jupiter is the brightest planet. Saturn, though not as bright as Jupiter, is still bright and shines with a distinctive golden color.
How to Watch the Great Conjunction:
A good view of the event can be obtained using binoculars or a small telescope. The two planets will sit quite low in the southwestern sky. You will also be able to observe the moon together with the two planets in the same field of view.
Find a good place with a view of the southwest horizon. At dark, Jupiter, and later Saturn can be seen moving in conjunction in the same general area 45 minutes after sunset. You need to be vigilant to view this event as both planets will set shortly after sunset.
Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn
What: Jupiter and Saturn, appear closest together in the sky. On this day Jupiter and Saturn will only be 0.1 degrees apart. This year’s event will be the closest since 1623 and the closest observable since 1226! You also need a clear sky for good viewing.
Where: Southwest horizon. A good view of the event can be obtained using binoculars or a small telescope.
When: December 12 and December 28, with the closest on December 21, 2020. The planets appear as a single point on Dec 21 & 22. On other days, they will be near to each other but will not appear “overlapping”. Look up after sunset and before the planets setting time. The planets set around 7:00 p.m depending on your location.
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