Jupiter and Saturn meet in the night sky on Monday, appearing closer together than they are from the time of Galileo in the 17th century.
Astronomers say so-called connections between the two largest planets in our solar system are rare. Jupiter passes its neighbor Saturn in the individual embankments around the sun every 20 years.
But the one that is coming up is particularly close: Jupiter and Saturn will be only a tenth of a degree beyond our view or about one-fifth the width of a full moon. They should be easily visible around the world shortly after sunset, weather permitting.
Throw in the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the longest night of the year – and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere – and this view is just in time for Christmas promises to be one of the great sympathies.
“The rarest thing is the closest contact that occurs in our sky during the night,” said David Weintraub of Vanderbilt University, a professor of astronomy.
“I think it’s fair to say that an event like this can only happen once in a person’s life, and I think ‘once in my life’ is a very good test of whether something deserves has been identified as rare or special. ”
This is the closest Jupiter-Saturn pair since July 1623, when the two planets appeared slightly closer. It was almost impossible to see this connection, however, due to its proximity to the sun. Much closer and in clear view was the March 1226 connection of the two planets – when Genghis Khan was taking over Asia.
The Monday pairing is the closest pairing visible from the way back then.
Saturn and Jupiter have been drawing closer to the southwestern sky for weeks. Jupiter – bigger and closer to Earth – is much brighter.
“I love watching them come closer and closer to each other and the fact that I can see it with my naked eyes from my back porch! Virginia Tech astronaut Nahum Arav said in an email.
To see, get ready shortly after sunset on Monday, looking southwest very low on the horizon. Saturn will be the smaller, weakest blob to the right of Jupiter. Binoculars will be needed to separate the two planets.
Despite appearances, Jupiter and Saturn will in fact be more than 450 million miles (730 million kilometers) apart. The Earth, meanwhile, will be 550 million miles (890 million kilometers) from Jupiter.
A telescope not only captures Jupiter and Saturn in the same field of view, but even some of their brightest branches.
Their next close couple: March 15, 2080.