As you can safely see Christmas Star Monday, Great Jupiter & Saturn Harvest

As we approach the end of the year and begin to reflect on all that 2020 was – or was not – we can all agree on one thing: it has been a year great for aerospace, space science, and astronomy. From the SpaceX setup and headline repositioning with their successful Crew Dragon space lights to Comet NEOWISE waking us up mid-summer, there’s a lot to see in the night sky this year.

If you’re looking for one brighter light point in a year that’s so dark, here it comes – literally: on December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will form a massive alliance.

It is called “Great Conjunction” because it involves the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn making a close look in the night sky around every 20 years. They finally did so in the hours ahead of May 31, 2020; this year’s correlation is unique in that it will bring clarity to the planets to a closer visual alignment.

This year, Jupiter and Saturn will pass within 6 arcminutes apart; that is the closest they have been to them since March 4, 1226, meaning that this is a once in a lifetime celestial view. They appear so close that it can be difficult to tell them apart with the unsupported eye, even though the planets themselves are hundreds of millions of miles apart. Add to that the fact that the Big Coalition takes place just before Christmas and it is no surprise that people have called this popular Christmas Star in 2020.

If you want to see the Great Conjunction safely this year, you may need to travel – but no flight or overnight accommodation will be required. Instead, you should be able to safely adhere to local travel restrictions in your area and still find a place to be at a social distance and be able to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. Here are some safe tips for this once-in-a-lifetime Big Conference.

1. Plan the place you want to visit

One of the most important suggestions for planning an out-of-home experience right now is to cover the details in advance. In particular, you will want to:

  • Make sure the place you want to go is open. Many national and state parks have limited access due to the persistent pandemic, so by checking in advance you are not driving to find out if the truth is not true. your viewing area available.
  • Look for a place with a good view of the west and southwest horizon (depending on your latitude). Both planets will appear closer to the horizon than zenith as the sun sets on December 21st.
  • Find a place with limited light pollution. While the best viewing opportunity is in the two hours after sunset (when the sky is still somewhat light and the two planets have not settled), you will have a better experience if you do not near any headlights.
  • Choose a place that is not likely to be crowded. It is especially important right now for Americans to limit their cross-home communication. If you can find a place in a park or green space that is not well visited, you will have a better time without worrying about other people’s groups.

2. Bring the right equipment and gear you need

You can watch the Big Coalition without any gear, but here are a few suggestions to make the experience even better:

  1. Bundle up! December 21 is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. As the sun sets that day, the temperature is likely to drop (depending on where you are). Bring hats and gloves to stay warm so you can enjoy seeing the Great Conjunction for longer.
  2. A pair of binoculars or a telescope will help make the Big Alliance even more impressive. At the time of the Confederacy, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that you will be able to see the two planets and the four branches of Galilee in Jupiter with very little help.
  3. If you plan to stay and star after the full night, grab a red flashlight to help you see in the dark without affecting your night vision.

3. Check the weather

Unfortunately, we still can’t control cloud coverage, so be sure to check out the preview over the few days before Monday’s Big Conference. If the weather is clear, brilliant – you may not have to go far to get a good view. If you have clouds, consider whether you can travel far enough to get clear skies.

4. Adhere to Local Guidance

This is completely a once in a lifetime astronomy view, but it’s not necessarily “essential” – don’t risk your health. Remember to prohibit interactions with anyone outside your family or pod, wear a mask, and travel (by car) in accordance with your local health guidelines. That way, everyone will have a memorable and healthy experience too.

No matter how you plan your Great Conjunction visual experience, it’s a great way for end-of-year astronomy enthusiasts. 2021 is full of astronomy events to look forward to too, too!