Tonight, on the first day of astronomical winter, you may be able to observe a rare phenomenon observed by the famous astronomer Galileo was alive: Jupiter and Saturn will appear so close together in the night sky that gaseous giants will look like a single star: the Christmas star.
The seemingly huddled planets, known as the great conjunction, appear only a tenth of a degree apart, or about a fifth the diameter of a full moon. While the grand conjunction occurs every 20 years, the planets have not been that close together since July 16, 1623 or 397 years ago. according to timeanddate.com. And the last time the planets were so close together at night when the sun’s reflections didn’t make it impossible to see them was in 1223 – almost 800 years ago!
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How can you grasp the big connection? Just after sunset, in the northern hemisphere, look up into the southwestern sky and you should see the duo glow. Once you spot the spot, keep your pinky finger at arm’s length. This should be enough to block Jupiter and Saturn, which are 11 and 9 times the diameter of Earth, respectively. The great conjunction should also be visible from the southern hemisphere, only in the western sky. Jupiter, the larger planet in the solar system, will be the brighter of the two.
Wherever you are on earth, the great conjunction will take place near the horizon. If you take out your binoculars or a telescope, the duo will appear in the same field of view, 45Seconds.fr reported. While you should be able to see the sky view for the rest of December, both planets will be eclipsed by the sun in January.
Live webcasts of the great conjunction
If you can’t see the conjunction or if your sky is cloudy, socialmediagossips.fr has put together a list of webcasts so you don’t miss a thing:
– The online Slooh Observatory will begin its webcast at 2:00 p.m. EST (7:00 p.m. GMT). You can follow the event on Slooh’s YouTube channel.
– The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona will also host a webcast: the event will include commentary from astronomers and educators, as well as evening telescope views on the Lowell Observatory website or on their YouTube channel from 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT on December 22nd ).
– The Great Conjunction Webcast from the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University in Brentwood, Tennessee, will be hosted by Billy Teets, acting director and outreach astronomer at the observatory. The webcast will begin at 6:00 p.m. EST (11:00 p.m. GMT) on the observatory’s YouTube channel.
– The Virtual Telescope Project’s online observatory will broadcast the Great Conjunction from Ceccano, Italy, starting at 10:30 a.m. EST (3:30 p.m. GMT). You can follow the event on the Virtual Telescope Project website.
Long distance relationship of planets
Jupiter and Saturn undertake very different walks around the Sun to find out why they usually have such a distant relationship. Saturn’s orbit is much longer, taking 30 years to complete a full orbit compared to that of Jupiter 12. They also have very different inclinations as they travel. While Jupiter has an axial tilt of only 3 degrees (which also explains why the giant has no seasons), Saturn tilted more than 27 degrees, according to NASA. From the Earth’s point of view, the two seldom seem so close together.
“You can think of the solar system as a career path, with each of the planets running its own path and the earth moving toward the center of the stadium,” said Henry Throop, an astronomer in the planetary science division at NASA’s Washington, DC headquarters, said in a statement from NASA. “From our point of view we will be able to see Jupiter on the inner path, which approaches Saturn for the whole month and finally passes it on December 21st.
If you miss today’s event, you’ll have to wait another 20 years. The next major conjunctions will be on November 2, 2040 and April 7, 2060, timeanddate.com reported. But the spectacle will be a little less impressive as the planets appear eleven times farther apart, or 1.1 degrees apart, compared to today’s great conjunction.
Originally posted on 45Seconds.fr.
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