Jupiter & Saturn will appear as one giant planet in the nighttime sky on December 21st known as ‘The Great Conjunction’

It’s been nearly 800 years since the alignment occurred at night
Great Conjunction
Great Conjunction
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 7:54 PM EST
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There’s no question: What happens in the sky the night of the winter solstice is sure to bring some joy in a year when it’s been hard to find. Jupiter and Saturn will dance in a planetary conjunction, lining up perfectly to create the illusion of a “Christmas star.”

“Practice ahead of time, maybe a couple of nights before this happens. Get out there and play with the settings on your camera. I’ve taken hundreds of shots to get one good one,” says Gordon Silver, Lakewood Ranch Photographer.

Jupiter and Saturn align every 20 years or so, but it has been nearly 400 years since they danced this close together. It’s been nearly 800 years since the alignment occurred at night, as it will this year. And the two planets won’t be this cozy again until March 15, 2080.

The best viewing of the ‘Great Conjunction’ will be away from city lights and about an hour after sunset. You’ll want to start scanning the southwest sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and will be easy to spot, while Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear just above and to the left of Jupiter. Jupiter will overtake Saturn, then the planets will reverse positions in the sky.

“ Believe it or not the beach is the best place to view this spectacle. The point of being at the beach is simply that you have no obstructions on the horizon. You’ll only have a short 2-hour window after sunset to view the planets before they go beneath the horizon,” says Howard Hochhalter, Planetarium Manager with the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see the conjunction, but the boost they give may make it possible to see the four large moons that orbit Jupiter.

Silver states, “the planets are strutting their stuff this time. If you are driving pull the car over and just look at the conjunction and gaze at it because it’s going to be an amazing sight to see.”

On this most spectacular of nights, the Ursid meteor shower, which runs from Dec. 17 to 26 every year, reaches its peak.

“This is a minor meteor shower compared to the Geminids, but you’ll still be able to see streaks across the sky, and if you go somewhere dark, and you are fortunate enough to get clear skies you’ll get about 15-20 meteors per hour,” says Hochhalter.

The shooting stars will appear to come from just to the left of the bowl of the Big Dipper, which will hang low in the northern sky during the peak.

Take advantage of this opportunity to view the Great Conjunction because the two planets won’t be this cozy again until March 15, 2080.

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