A Holiday Gift from the Night Sky


Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

Kosei Dohi, STEM Writer

As the holidays start to approach, it might be a good idea to look up at the sky. On December 21st, a once-in-a-lifetime event will occur: the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. This phenomenon occurs when Jupiter and Saturn align extremely close together in the night sky. This type of alignment occurs typically once every 20 years, but this time, the alignment is much rarer. The separation between Jupiter and Saturn will only be the width of a dime. The last time this happened was approximately 800 years ago. 

The year 2020 has been quite rough. With everything that has been happening, it is a good time to relax during the holidays by witnessing the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. The orbital period, or the time it takes to revolve around the Sun, is approximately 12 years for Jupiter and 29 years for Saturn. Calculating their position relative to what we see in the night sky, Jupiter and Saturn are supposed to appear extremely close to each other every 20 years. This is a relatively rare event, but not as rare as the alignment that would occur on December 21st. The last time Jupiter and Saturn were extremely close was in the Middle Ages. For some perspective, it is also when Genghis Khan was at the peak of his power. 

Witnessing this event does not require any special equipment, only a curious eye. To see the phenomena in full detail, view the planets right after sunset in the southwestern sky. For those who have telescopes, it is highly recommended to bring them out during this time. Coincidentally, this event will occur a few days before Christmas, so it is also the perfect time to bundle up and view the night sky. Happy holidays from space!