Before the end of 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that they appear to be a “double planet”. The great conjunction did not occur, and the planetary alignments became known, for nearly 800 years.
When their orbits align every 20 years, Jupiter and Saturn are very close to each other. This happens because Jupiter orbits the Sun every 12 years, while Saturn’s orbit takes 30 years – every two decades, Jupiter envelops Saturn, according to NASA.
However, the 2020 conjunction is especially rare – no planets have been observed in close proximity to each other since the Middle Ages, in the year 1226.
“The alignments between these two planets are rather rare, they happen once every 20 years or so,” said Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan. “But this conjunction is extremely rare because of how close the planets are to each other.” statement. “You will have to go back to before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.”
Corresponding to the December 21, 2020 winter solstice, the two planets will be only 0.1 degrees away – less than the diameter of the full moon, EarthSky Says. Astronomers use the word “coupling” to describe the meeting of objects in the night sky, and the great conjunction takes place between the largest planets in our solar system: Jupiter and Saturn.
The planets will be very close and, in some perspectives, appear to overlap completely, creating a rare “double planet” effect.
However, while it may appear to the naked eye very, very close, it is actually still hundreds of millions of miles away, according to NASA.
How to see a great pairing
During their last major conjunction in 2000, Jupiter and Saturn were so close to the Sun that it was difficult to notice the event. But skywatchers should have a clearer view of the celestial event this time. The Great Conjunction will be bright shortly after sunset, low in the southwestern sky, as seen from the Northern Hemisphere, NASA Says.
During the entire month of December, skywatchers will easily be able to spot the two planets. For the next three weeks, you can search for them every evening to watch them move closer and closer into the sky.
Jupiter currently appears brighter than any star in the sky. Saturn is a little dull, but still as bright as the brightest star, with an identifiable golden glow.
Saturn will appear to the east of Jupiter, and it will appear close to the planet, like some of its moons. Unlike stars that twinkle, both planets will maintain a constant brightness, which is easy to find on clear nights.
The event can be observed from anywhere on Earth, provided the sky is clear. “The further north the sights are, the less time he will have to peek at them before the planets sink below the horizon,” Hartigan said.
The planets will appear extremely close for about a month, giving sky-watchers ample time to witness the stunning alignment throughout the holiday season. The event coincides with the December solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
This would be the “greatest” major attachment for the next 60 years, until 2080. Hartigan said that after this pairing, the duo would not make such a close approach until sometime after the year 2400.