The Great Conjunction: NASA explain upcoming space event
Every 20 years or so, Jupiter and Saturn happen to meet in a combined patch of the sky, giving the appearance of one star. While the planets will actually still be roughly 400 million miles from one another, their positioning in their orbits gives them the appearance of one single cosmic being.
The conjunction this time around happens to be extra special for several reasons.
For starters, it is the closest the planets have been to one another in 400 years.
However, that conjunction happened in the middle of the day, so ancient astronomers were unable to see the phenomenon.
This time, the conjunction will be most visible shortly after the Sun sets, giving the perfect spectacle to all across the Earth.
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The conjunction of the two – known as the Great Conjunction as the pair are by far the biggest celestial bodies, aside from the Sun, in the solar system – also coincidentally happens to form on Winter Solstice, December 21.
This has led astronomers to dub it the ‘Christmas Star’ due to its appearance over the festive season.
While the planets will be at their closest tomorrow, they are clearly visible in the night’s sky now.
NASA has shared some handy tips on how to spot the Great Conjunction.
The space agency said: “Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park.
“Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
“An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible.
“Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
“The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.”
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The last time Jupiter and Saturn were this close together and visible was in 1226 AD.
However, we will not have to wait such a long time for the next phenomenon, according to Astronomy.com.
The site said: “Humanity won’t have to wait quite as long to see the solar system’s two largest planets repeat this month’s performance, though.
“Another Great Conjunction will occur in 2080. Of course, many of us alive today won’t be around then, so it would be wise to soak in this show while you can.”
The best time to see the Great Conjunction will be shortly after sunset, hovering brightest next to the Moon between 4.30pm and 6pm GMT.
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