Happy December, Stargazers. There’s some fun stuff happening in our sky this month, including a rare planetary event that hasn’t occurred in almost 400 years. Jupiter and Saturn are about to get up close and personal.
Jupiter and Saturn great conjunction
Between December 21 and 22 there’s going to be a ‘great conjunction’ of Jupiter and Saturn. This means they will get super close in the sky. At their closest they will only be 0.1 degrees apart, which is about a fifth of the full diameter of the moon.
A ‘conjunction’ is used to describe the meeting of planets, but a great conjunction is reserved for specifically for Jupiter and Saturn because they are the largest planets in our solar system.
It’s quite a rare occurrence. The last great conjunction occurred in the year 2000. But the 2020 ‘kiss’ between Jupiter and Saturn is particularly special due to their proximity.
At their closest, Jupiter and Saturn will be within at 0.1 degrees, which hasn’t happened in almost four centuries. The last time was is 1623 and according to EarthSky, it probably wasn’t well observed.
This is because it occurred only 13 degrees east of the sun and followed it around the time of sunset. The last time the great conjunction was observable was back in 1226.
Interestingly, the 1623 great conjunction happened just 14 years after Gallileo created his first telescope.
We’d recommend casting your eyes upward to catch this beautiful site when December 21-22 rolls around. The next great conjunction won’t take place until March, 2080.
How to watch the Jupiter Saturn great conjunction
The cool thing about this event is that you will be able to see it pretty much anywhere on earth with the naked eye. This is due to how close and bright the planets will be. So if the skies are clear, you’re all good.
The best time to view Jupiter and Saturn having a friendly celestial smooch will be about an hour after sunset.
Of course, you’ll have an even better experience if you have a telescope or a lensed-up DSLR camera. You may even be able to spot Jupiter’s four moons in a row.
Other astronomy dates to look out for in December
Over in the Northern hemisphere parts of South America and South Africa will experience a total solar eclipse on December 14.
While us Aussies won’t get to enjoy that, there’s still some great stuff worth keeping a literal eye or two on here in the south:
- December 2: Phoenicid Meteor Shower
- December 12: Venus and Moon conjunction
- December 14: Geminid Meteor Shower
- December 16: Jupiter, Saturn and moon conjunction