I love these events. I will be heading down highway 87 just south of Pine tomorrow evening with my spotting scope and camera to take a few pictures. Read down and you will find some nice history of who may have seen this occurrence years ago.
On December 21, 2020 which is tomorrow or if you are opening this email a day later, today, Jupiter and Saturn are being overlaid in our solar system.
"Jupiter and Saturn, our solar system’s two largest worlds, have been drawing ever closer to each other in the sky in recent months as seen from our Earthly vantage, an event that has come to be known as a great conjunction. The two planets will appear closest together on Monday, December 21, the day of the Winter Solstice, when—depending on your eyesight—they may seem to briefly merge into a single bright point of light before drawing apart again.
The last time they appeared this close together was in Galileo’s time, but because the two planets were near their conjunction with the Sun and would have been lost in bright twilight, there is no record of anyone having seen the event. You would have to go back nearly 800 years, to 1226 AD, to find a more favorable great conjunction, with the planets approaching even closer and visible in a dark sky.
Past and Future Great Conjunctions
After December 21, the two worlds will slowly appear to recede from each other. By Christmas, they will already appear a lunar diameter apart. The next two great conjunctions, in November 2040 and April 2060, are relatively wide ones, with Jupiter and Saturn staying more than a degree apart even at their closest. Some of our younger readers should be around for the next one, on March 15, 2080, in which the two planets will actually be a smidge closer (6 arcminutes) than they will be this week.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn were this close together was on July 16, 1623, 13 years after Galileo first turned his telescope to the heavens and a decade before his run-in with the Inquisition. However, the two planets were very close to the Sun; Saturn, at least, would have been invisible to the unaided eye, and there is no record of anyone having observed this pairing.
To have actually seen these two planets this close in our sky (in fact, even closer), you would have to go back to March 4, 1226, more than four centuries before the telescope was invented. St. Francis of Assisi died that October and would be canonized just two years later. Genghis Khan and his horsemen had conquered much of Asia and parts of Europe; he would die the following year. The Sufi mystic poet, Jalal Ad-Din Rumi, was a young man of 19. He and his family had fled what is now Afghanistan due to the Mongol invasion and settled in Antalya, Turkey. Two years later, the Holy Roman Emperor would lead the Sixth Crusade, gaining control of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which encompassed Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jaffa, and surrounding lands through a negotiated settlement with the Sultan of Egypt.
The German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler claimed in the 17th Century that the Star of Bethlehem may have had an astronomical origin, namely the great conjunction of 7 BC. That year’s event was actually a rare triple conjunction, with Jupiter and Saturn approaching and receding from each other over a period of months due to the planets’ apparent retrograde motion.
It is possible for Jupiter to even occult (pass in front of—wholly or partially) Saturn from our vantage, but this happens incredibly rarely. The last one happened in 6858 BC, with the next due in 7541—the latter year will actually feature two occultations, as part of a triple conjunction: a partial occultation on February 16, and a full occultation on June 17, in which Jupiter’s disk will obscure all but the very tips of Saturn’s rings. Hopefully, there will still be people around on Earth to see this amazing event."
This article was researched and written by a pretty cool writer from ExtremeTech.com.
The image was taken by Jim Peacock of Wisconsin. Thank you.
Christopher Cody | 2701 N 7th St, Phoenix