In this Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 photo made available by NASA, Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Va. The two planets are drawing closer to each other in the sky as they head towards a “great conjunction” on Monday, Dec. 21, where the two giant planets will appear a tenth of a degree apart. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

In this Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 photo made available by NASA, Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Va. The two planets are drawing closer to each other in the sky as they head towards a “great conjunction” on Monday, Dec. 21, where the two giant planets will appear a tenth of a degree apart. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Jupiter and Saturn align in our skies tonight, to form the Great Conjunction

Stargazers typically gather in groups at observatories or with backyard telescopes for such events

By Charlie Carey

Culminating in crisp December skies, planets Jupiter and Saturn are coming together beginning Monday (Dec. 21) to form the rather rare Great Conjunction.

Happening roughly once every 20 years, the two biggest planets in the solar system will appear to pass each other. This year, however, is the closest they have come in about 400 years.

“From our vantage point, we’ll be able to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on Dec. 21,” said Henry Throop, an astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Although appearing very close together from Earth, the two gas giants will still be hundreds of millions of miles away from each other.

Most visible just after sunset, it is purely coincidental that this astronomical sight also occurs on the winter solstice.

“Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits,” said Throop. “The date of the conjunction is determined by the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth in their paths around the Sun, while the date of the solstice is determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis.”

For those wanting to see this planetary phenomenon for themselves, NASA recommends finding a viewing point with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park.

Luckily for those in urban settings, Jupiter and Saturn are generally bright enough to be seen from most cities – so long as the sky is free of clouds.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

AstronomyChristmas