As we approach the end the year one celestial event will entice people to look up – a grand meteor shower and a great conjunction of two planets.
Over months and years, the planets revolve around the sun at different speeds. On occasion, two planets will optically come close to each other in the sky called a conjunction.
Brilliant Jupiter (887 million km. away) and Saturn (1.6 billion km away to the upper left) are now visible low in the southwestern sky, will appear extremely close on the night of December 21 which also happens to be the winter solstice.
A typical Jupiter-Saturn conjunction occurs every 20 years or so but this year, they will appear as a double planet with a separation equal to 1/5 the width of the full moon.
This will give telescope owners a rare treat of seeing these gas giants and their moons in the same field of view. This extreme close approach plays out every 397 years.
Many are associating this to the Star of the Magi which was the close conjunction of the two brightest planets namely Venus and Jupiter.
On the night of June 17, 2 BC, they appeared to touch each which was deemed a sign.
This is the closest astronomical event at the time as Halley’s Comet was seen 10 years prior in 12 BC as recorded by the Chinese.
Till next time, clear skies.
by Gary Boyle – The Backyard Astronomer