Mother Nature has always been the best when providing opportunities for some usually spectacular free and cheap events to enjoy with tomorrow being no exception. So if you haven’t looked up at the heavens lately then you are sure to have missed Jupiter and Saturn slowly moving toward each other in the night sky.
Astronomers will tell you they are actually over 400 million miles from each other but from our vantage point on earth they appear close and are getting closer until we will have what they call a conjunction. Saturn and Jupiter will be just 0.1 degrees apart (about 1/5 of a moon’s diameter) and since they are our solar systems largest planets this event is being called the Great Conjunction.
This celestial event will take place tomorrow, Monday December 21st, 2020 and some people are calling it the “Christmas Star,” due to its proximity to Christmas, despite the fact it has nothing to do with Christmas and is not a star, but you can’t stop a good nickname these days.
It’s not that rare for Saturn and Jupiter to experience a conjunction. It happens every twenty years, according to earthsky.org. Being no rocket scientists, we here at Charleston on the Cheap take the word astronomers when they share that Saturn takes 30 earth years to go around the sun and Jupiter takes 12 earth years. So every 20 years, Jupiter catches up with Saturn, as viewed from Earth.
Although great conjunctions are not that rare, the one that is happening tomorrow is the closest the two planets will have been since 1623 and it will be the closest they will come until March 15th, 2080.
Way back in 2000 (feels like a lifetime ago) during the last great conjunction, Saturn and Jupiter were too near the sun which made it near impossible for the casual sky-watcher to observe, but this time they’ll be much lower in the horizon and should be pretty easy to see, as long as the sky is clear.
You won’t need any highly specialized equipment, although binoculars or a small telescope will help. You won’t need to go to a super-remote location to see it, although the experience will definitely be enhanced if you’re in a location with less light pollution.
Sunset on December 21st will be at 5:15PM also making the day the shortest of the year and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.
Some advice form the experts at NASA:
- Jupiter and Saturn will appear brighter than nearly every star. They can be seen from large cities.
- You’ll need a clear view of the southwest.
- The planets will be visible in early evening.
- Start around sunset, and try to watch for an hour or two to see how they change
- The crescent moon will pass near the planets a few days before the conjunction, making for an interesting photo