The Great Conjunction of 2020
Photos by Matthew Brenden Wood
At the end of a rough year, let’s delight in rare science beauty.
Have you seen something strange in the sky lately? The giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are crossing paths in the sky this week and you can see it! When astronomical objects like planets and stars appear to get close in the sky, astronomers call this a conjunction. And when the two largest planets in the solar system come together, it’s called a Great Conjunction.
Last night, Jupiter and Saturn were at their closest, appearing just one-fifth the width of the full moon apart! While the two planets might seem close enough to high-five each other, they’re not actually close at all. In fact, they’re still 456 million miles apart—that’s almost five times the distance between the Earth and the sun!
Conjunctions happen all the time, but Great Conjunctions like this are rare. The last time these two planets were this close was back in 1623. During that year, the collected works of someone named William Shakespeare were published for the first time, and just 13 years earlier Galileo pointed a telescope at the heavens for the first time. If you happen to miss it this time, don’t worry—you’ll only have to wait until March 15, 2080, for another apparent close encounter between these two giants of the solar system. But if you miss that one, you’ll have to wait until 2417 to see the next. So, check it out now while you can!
How to view:
Sure, a telescope or a pair of binoculars can bring you up close, but all you really need to catch this rare event is your eyes—and some clear skies! Just after sunset, look for a bright star to the southwest. That’s Jupiter—and if you’re patient, you’ll see a slightly dimmer Saturn very close by.
If you follow them over the next week, you’ll see them slowly grow further apart as Jupiter passes Saturn on its orbit around the sun.
Guest post by Matthew Brenden Wood