Saturn and Jupiter will align in the closest Great Conjunction since the Middle Ages. Credit: CBS

The Great Conjunction: Don’t Miss This Rare Cosmic Event That Hasn’t Occurred Since 1623

This year will conclude with one of the rarest astronomical events you can witness - the closest Great Conjunction since the past several hundred years.

This year will conclude with a unique astronomical spectacle: Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that they will form a “double planet”. The Great Conjunction, as the alignment of the two planets came to be called, has not occurred for almost 800 years. The planets have not been this close since 1623 while also people have not had the chance to observe them this close since the Middle Ages, in 1226.

A millennial history of observations

For a long time, people have observed Jupiter and Saturn. They were considered the most distant planets until they discovered Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. In the sky, the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn looked like bright stars.

Saturn and Jupiter converge approximately every 20 years. Astrologers believed that this conjunction of the planets was the beginning of a new 20-year cycle, the longest cyclic pairing cycle known to them.

Some scholars suggest that such a connection is described in the New Testament as the Star of Bethlehem. It is the conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars at the beginning of March 6 BC. and is mentioned in the Bible.

The Rare Great Conjunction of 2020

The rarity of the 2020 Great Conjunction makes it an absolutely mandatory sight. As we said, the last time there was such a close alignment of Saturn and Jupiter in the sky was hundreds of years ago. Moreover, if you miss this one, you would have to wait for another 60 years until a similar close alignment occurs.

According to EarthSky, coinciding with the winter solstice of December 21, 2020, the two planets will be only 0.1 degrees apart – less than the diameter of the full moon. However, while they may appear very, very close to the naked eye, they are actually still hundreds of millions of kilometers apart, NASA said.

Two decades ago in 2020, during the last Great Conjunction, observations were nearly impossible. In this specific case, the two gas giants aligned too close to the Sun. This time, however, we should get a clear view of the astronomical event.

According to NASA, the large junction will be visible shortly after sunset, low in the southwestern sky when viewed from the northern hemisphere.

The path of Saturn and Jupiter to their final Great Conjunction. Credit: NWS Seattle
The path of Saturn and Jupiter to their final Great Conjunction. Credit: NWS Seattle

By the way, observing the two planets will be possible throughout the entire month of December. In fact, the alignment of the planets began months ago, and currently, you can spot them easily every night.

For the remaining days until December 21, you can go out every single night and see how the two planets get closer and closer to each other. If you decide to do it, you will see that Jupiter is the brightest star in the sky currently while Saturn is nearly as bright on Jupiter’s east side.

This event can be observed from anywhere on Earth, provided the sky is clear.

“The further north an observer is, the less time he will have to catch a glimpse of the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon,” Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan said.

The planets will appear very close for about a month, giving observers plenty of time to witness a spectacular alignment. Even more, the Great Conjunction will happen on the day of the winter solstice which, as you probably can tell, resulted in even more astrological predictions about this month and the future.

In case you miss this Great Conjunction, you will have more chances once every 20 years. However, the two planets will not be as closely aligned until as early as 2080 which is too much time to wait. In other words, don’t miss it!

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Lewis, S. (2020, December 03). Jupiter and Saturn will come within 0.1 degrees of each other, forming the first visible “double planet” in 800 years.

• A magnified view of Jupiter and Saturn at conjunction. (n.d.).

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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