Viewing the “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn, December 21, 2020 — With Photographs
A rare astrological event known as a “great conjunction” occurred yesterday evening, Monday, December 21, 2020, which marks the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere…
…which is when Jupiter and Saturn — the two largest planets in the solar system — appear to pass each other in the sky. Every 20 years or so they seem to align.
However, the event is especially significant this year, as the two planets will align at approximately a tenth of a degree apart. This is the closest they have been since 1623 — which was almost 400 years ago — and nearly 800 years ago since it happened at night. The event occurred just after sunset in the southwest corner of the sky and lasted around 45 minutes. The planets could be seen other nights as well, but tonight was the closest they were going to be — and I decided to walk outside with my telescope and see it for myself.
I looked southwest once I got outside and saw Jupiter shining in the clear sky, with the much dimmer Saturn next to it. I set up my telescope and got a much clearer view of the planets, including just barely seeing Saturn’s rings. Then I attempted to use my phone to take photos through the telescope. They were not as clear as I would have liked them to be, but I was still able to get much better photos than I would have gotten with no telescope at all.
In the photograph above, Jupiter is on the right and Saturn is on the left. Though they may look close in the photo, they are actually still hundreds of millions of miles away from each other. Note the elliptical shape of Saturn due to the effect given by its rings.
The following photographs show the planets more closely:
Most people would not consider this event nearly as interesting as a solar eclipse or even a lunar eclipse, but I am glad I saw it anyway considering how rarely this phenomenon occurs. The next “great conjunction” will be in the year 2040, but Jupiter and Saturn will not get nearly as close again until the year 2080.
All photographs ©2020 by Matthew Cohen.