Jupiter, Saturn merging in night sky, closest in centuries
Jupiter and Saturn will merge in the night sky on Monday, appearing closer to one another than they have since Galileo's time in the 17th century. Astronomers say so-called conjunctions between the two largest planets in our solar system aren't particularly rare. Jupiter passes its neighbor Saturn in their respective laps around the sun every 20 years.
This is one of the greatest of 'Great Conjunctions'
Jupiter and Saturn should be easily visible around the world a little after sunset, weather permitting. Toss in the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the longest night of the year, and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, and this just-in-time-for-Christmas spectacle will be the greatest of Great Conjunctions. The two planets will be just one-tenth of a degree apart from our perspective.
This 'once in a lifetime' event is extremely special
"It's fair to say that such an event typically may occur just once in any one person's lifetime, and I think 'once in my lifetime' is a pretty good test of whether something merits being labeled as rare or special," said Vanderbilt University's David Weintraub.
The conjunction will be the closest pairing since 17th century
Monday's conjunction will be the closest pairing since centuries. The planets have been drawing closer in the south-southwest sky for weeks with Jupiter appearing bigger, closer, and vastly brighter. "I love watching them come closer and closer to each other and the fact that I can see it with my naked eyes from my back porch," Virginia Tech astronomer Nahum Arav said.
Previous Jupiter and Saturn conjunctions
It will be the closest pairing since July 1623, when the two planets appeared a little nearer. This conjunction was impossible to see because of its closeness to the sun. In comparison, the March 1226 conjunction of the two planets was closer.
How to witness the amazing spectacle
Be ready after sunset, looking to the southwest fairly low on the horizon. Saturn will be the smaller, fainter blob at Jupiter's upper right. Use a binocular to see the planets separately. A telescope will not only capture Jupiter and Saturn in the same field of view but even some of their brightest moons. Their next super-close pairing will happen on March 15, 2080.