Jupiter-Saturn ‘Christmas Star’ great conjunction was 1 year ago

Jupiter and Saturn seemed closer than ever to one another since the 1600s.

On Dec. 21, 2020, Saturn and Jupiter were merged in a night sky for the first time. “Great Conjunction,” appearing closer to one another than they have since Galileo’s time in the 17th century. 

Astronomers believe that conjunctions between the largest planets in the solar system are not uncommon. Jupiter passes Saturn every 20 years in their respective laps around sun.

The last year was particularly close. Saturn and Jupiter were only one-tenth of degrees apart from our perspective, or about one-fifth of the width of a full Moon. If the weather was good, they were visible all over the globe shortly after sunset.

The Lowell Observatory in Arizona, which is located in Arizona, livestreamed it for those who couldn’t view it. You can see the player above.

Toss in the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the longest night of the year — and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere — and this just-in-time-for-Christmas spectacle promised to be one of the greatest of Great Conjunctions.

“What is most rare is a close conjunction that occurs in our nighttime sky,” said Vanderbilt University’s David Weintraub, an astronomy professor. “I think it’s fair to say that such an event typically may occur just once in any one person’s lifetime, and I think ‘once in my lifetime’ is a pretty good test of whether something merits being labeled as rare or special.”

It was the closest Jupiter/Saturn pair since July 1623, when they appeared a little closer. Because of its proximity to the sun, it was almost impossible for anyone to see this conjunction.

Considerably closer and in plain view was the March 1226 conjunction of the two planets — when Genghis Khan was conquering Asia. The 2020 conjunction was the closest known pairing since then.

“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!”Nahum Arav, Virginia Tech astronomer, stated in an email.

Although it may seem like they are close, Saturn and Jupiter were actually more than 500 million miles apart. Earth was located 550 million miles away from Jupiter.

Their next super-closest pairing: March 15, 2080.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.

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