Ask the Expert: The Great Conjunction

Jupiter and Saturn will appear close together as observed from Earth

Jupiter and Saturn will appear close together as observed from Earth

The 2020 major meeting of Jupiter and Saturn will be very close from 1623 onwards.

According to NASA researchers, while the gaseous planets may appear as one from Earth, they are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. "There won't quite be two separate points of light; there won't be one single point of light; it will be an oblong, nearly like auto headlights off in the far distance".

A conjunction at its most basic is when two objects, such as planets, pass each other in the sky.

Jupiter and Saturn are scheduled to align with the night sky next week Excellent connection - This year some call it the "Christmas Star" - the closest such event in nearly 400 years. But that year, the conjunction was too close to the sun to view it.

"Whether or not you see it past that time depends on your local horizon and how far down to the horizon you can see", she said.

Although these conjunctions occur every 20 years, the two planets won't appear this close in the sky until March 15, 2080. They will still appear as two distinct objects in the sky. Also, while the conjunction's appearance on the winter solstice is fortuitous for Northern Hemisphere residents, it is merely a coincidence, based on the planets' orbits and the Earth's tilt.

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In Chicago, on the evening of December 21st, after sunset, you will want to see the lower southwest sky.

"This is extremely exciting because it is the closest the two planets have appeared since 1623".

Looking westward on the evening of December 21st, 2020.

Something to ponder as you stare up at the conjunction: One of those little dots around Jupiter, if you can see them, is the moon Europa.

Not every night comes with great connections, events like this happen once in a lifetime.

Freeman explained, "It's completely an accident that these events are happening on the same day; the solstices relate to the tilt of Earth's axis, which is independent of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn".

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Saturn will be slightly fainter than Jupiter and hang just up and to the left of the gas giant. Throughout this month, stargazers have been venturing out to watch the two planets get closer, night-after-night. "What's very nice about this one is that we are seeing it in opposition of the sun so we are on one side of the sun and Jupiter and Saturn are on the other".

Both planets shine steadily rather than twinkling like stars.

Therefore, they appear as a single "star". An hour after sunset, which will be around 5:30 PM EST, look in the southwestern sky.

Mr Woods said stargazers who use binoculars or a telescope may even be able to spot the planets and their individual moons up close.

"With even a small telescope you will see Jupiter with its family of four large moons, and Saturn with its fantastic ring system, and its large moon Titan".

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