Rare: In the winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn are next to each other

Rare: In the winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn are next to each other

The good thing is, this show can be shown around the world without special equipment. All you have to do is face southwest when night falls. Those with an amateur telescope may appreciate another rarity: with low magnification, the Both giant planets can be captured at a single glance. Jupiter, with its four bright moons, and Saturn with its strike rings will be in view simultaneously.

But you don’t have to wait until December 21st to admire the night sky. “It’s a lot more fun to watch throughout the month than December 21st,” he says Laura Danley, Curator Griffith Labs In Los Angeles. “You see those two lights coming closer and closer, until Jupiter and Saturn are only one-tenth the degree of an arc except on the 21st” – or one-fifth the diameter of the full moon in the night sky.

Consider that this is a very short distance and the entire lunar disk can be easily covered with the thumb of the hand. Still, most night vision glasses can distinguish two planets from each other. “If your eyesight is good enough to drive a car, you can see that Jupiter and Saturn are two separate objects,” Danley says, even when they are very close.

Near and far

Astronomers call a moment when the planets in the sky appear exactly to each other or appear as a ‘fusion’. The conjunctions of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn occur once every twenty years, and they are called the “best conjunctions” because they are rare. Connections between the inner planets of our solar system, Mercury or Venus, with each other or with the outer planets are very common, several times a decade.

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The farther a planet is from the sun, the slower it moves across the night sky – and Thursday In SaturnWe are the two planets farthest from the sun and still visible to the naked eye. . Those celestial revolutions cause us to stand close to each other in the night sky once every twenty years.

But not all connections between Jupiter and Saturn are the same. Their orbits are not in the same disk plane. (In doing so, Jupiter would completely block our view of Saturn every twenty years or so.) In general, the two giant planets pass a short distance from each other in the night sky, only at certain degrees. But this year, the two gas giants will approach each other more closely from Earth, even though they are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart.

The last connection between Jupiter and Saturn occurred in 1623, thirteen years after Galileo first turned a telescope into a night sky and discovered Jupiter’s four largest moons. “It must have been very difficult to see that connection because both planets would have been closer to the sun in the sky,” Kevin Schindler said. Lowell Labs In Flastop, Arizona. (That too was during the last ‘big merger’ in 2000.)

“You have to go back to 1226 to find a link that was very tight and visible in the night sky at the same time.” The next such admission will be in 2080.

Solar family in motion

Throughout history, people have attributed special astrological significance to these types of connections. The English writer Jeffrey Saucer describes it in the epic of his poetry Trolls and Chryside The Great Link of 1385: “Saturn and Jupiter, in [het sterrenbeeld] Cancer came together / such rain fell from the sky. “Some astrologers predict global catastrophes, but of course nothing happens.

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The planets are pulled slightly by their gravitational pull, but we know today that their effect on Earth is minimal. So we can relax and enjoy the show – or try to take pictures of it.

To get a good record of this couple, it says, “You have to do a lot of training and experimentation, with reasonably good equipment.” Bradley Schaefer, Astronomer at Louisiana State University. Those with a single-lens digital SLR camera or at least one camera on a tripod will get the best results when your smartphone’s camera records two points of light in the night sky.

“You definitely need to use a tripod and plan ahead of time when you want to take photos,” says Schaefer. Make sure you can see the night sky in a southwesterly direction without obstacles.

If it’s cloudy, do not worry, as many observatories, including Lowell, Arizona, will be watching the event. Livestream To broadcast.

We know the planets are always in motion, but a connection makes us feel it again and again. The big merger of 2020 is the chance to see the solar system as an ever-changing phase in which the planets do their work. “When you look at the night sky for several nights in a row, you realize how powerful the solar system really is,” says Danley.

Science journalist Don Polk lives in Toronto. His publications include Science of Shakespeare In In search of time. Follow Dan Twitter.

This article was originally published in English on National Geographic.com

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