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The Great Conjunction

Astro Tours

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When Jupiter and Saturn—the two biggest planets in our solar system—meet, it’s termed the “Great Conjunction.” What’s even more special is that it’s happening on night of the winter solstice

This is the rarest meeting between any of the five bright planets. It happens just once every two decades, and 2020 brings the closest Jupiter-Saturn conjunction since 1623, during Galileo’s times.

Simply speaking, a conjunction occurs when planets or other objects appear to be very close to each other on our sky’s dome. These “meetings” or conjunctions in the sky are fairly frequent, especially when it comes to the Moon passing the different planets in the sky. 

From our point of view, the two giant worlds will appear only 0.1 degrees apart. That’s just ⅕ of a full Moon diameter. Unlike previous conjunctions, this one’s not obscured by the Sun’s glare, either, so we get to see it.

Only if you can hold out until March 15, 2080, will you see a Great Conjunction as good as this one. Actually, that one, low in the eastern sky before dawn, will even be better, since the two giant planets will seemingly merge into a single brilliant star or rare double planet. Which is what some are saying about our current Great Conjunction.

if you’ve got trees or neighbours’ houses or hills in the direction of sunset, you’ll want to check out the planets a few evenings beforehand at that same time so you can be sure they’ll be in the clear on the solstitial evening.

Unfortunately, this will be a one-night affair. The day before and the day after, the planets will be noticeably farther apart and nowhere near as striking. So if the weather cooperates on the 21st, you’ll want to get all you can out of the spectacle. Binoculars will be a nice adjunct, and will easily reveal Jupiter’s four huge satellites spread in a straight line. Saturn will be off in a different direction, perpendicular to those moons.

The two images represent 20th and 21st December from Christchurch at 9pm



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