Don’t wait until Christmas to gift a telescope this year.
All throughout the year, two bright lights have stood out in the post-sunset skies.
Jupiter, our largest planet, is unmistakably bright in the south/southwest.
Nearby, slower-moving, yellower Saturn joins it, just a few degrees away.
On December 21, both worlds approach the same skyward position.
As Earth overtakes the outer planets, their relative positions shift.
Jupiter passes Saturn, from Earth’s view, just once every 20 years.
This time, however, they’ll achieve their closest alignment since 1623.
This year’s great conjunction brings them within just 0.1° of each other.
At magnitude -2.0, Jupiter appears brighter than everything except the Moon and Venus.
At magnitude +0.64, Saturn shines just 9% as luminous as Jupiter.
These worlds will be viewable together through binoculars or a wide-field telescope.
But the most spectacular alignment occurs after sundown on December 21, 2020.
On solstice night only, both planets and their moons will appear in the same high-magnification telescope’s frame.
If you’re gifting a telescope or binoculars this holiday season, give it in advance of this unique astronomical occasion.
The next ultra-close conjunction won’t occur until 2080; for some skywatchers, this will be a twice-in-a-lifetime event, after all.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.