Once-in-a-Lifetime Event to Occur Monday After Sunset

A Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter last happened in 1623
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 20, 2020 1:54 PM CST
Once-in-a-Lifetime Event to Occur Monday After Sunset
Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Va.   (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Jupiter and Saturn will merge in the night sky Monday, appearing closer to one another than they have since Galileo’s time in the 17th century, the AP reports. Astronomers say so-called conjunctions between the two largest planets in our solar system aren't particularly rare. Jupiter passes its neighbor Saturn in their respective laps around the sun every 20 years. But the one coming up is especially close: Jupiter and Saturn will be just one-tenth of a degree apart from our perspective or about one-fifth the width of a full moon. They should be easily visible around the world a little after sunset, weather permitting. Toss in the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the longest night of the year—and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere—and this just-in-time-for-Christmas spectacle promises to be one of the greatest of Great Conjunctions.

"What is most rare is a close conjunction that occurs in our nighttime sky," said Vanderbilt University’s David Weintraub. "I think it's fair to say that such an event typically may occur just once in any one person’s lifetime." It will be the closest Jupiter-Saturn pairing since July 1623. That conjunction was almost impossible to see, however, because of its closeness to the sun. Considerably closer and in plain view was the March 1226 conjunction of the two planets—when Genghis Khan was conquering Asia. Monday's conjunction will be the closest pairing that is visible since then. To see it, be ready shortly after sunset Monday, looking to the southwest fairly low on the horizon. Saturn will be the smaller, fainter blob at Jupiter’s upper right. Binoculars will be needed to separate the two planets. Their next super-close pairing: March 15, 2080.

(More astronomy stories.)

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