Great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn captured in stunning photos
Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, were visibly closer together on Monday evening than in 800 years - an extremely rare heavenly event known as the "great conjunction".
The conjunction occurs when the orbits of the two planets align every 20 years, but the event is not always visible and the planets are usually not as close together as they were on December 21st.
This time Jupiter and Saturn were only 0.1 degrees apart - less than the diameter of a full moon.
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The planets were so close that from some perspectives they completely overlapped, creating a rare "double planet" effect. Even though the planets appeared to be very, very close from Earth, in reality they are still hundreds of millions of miles apart.
The event happened to coincide with the winter solstice and Christmas week, but it can happen at any time of the year.
If you missed the spectacle or your sky appeared cloudy on Monday night, don't worry - the planets will still appear extremely close together in the night sky for the next few weeks, and dedicated astrophotographers are sharing their best shots of the night on social media.
Santa Barbara, California Los Angeles, California Melbourne, Australia
Jupiter (L) and Saturn appear in Santa Barbara, California on December 21, 2020, about a tenth of a degree apart. / Photo credit: Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images
The planets Jupiter (L) and Saturn are seen from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California on December 21, 2020. / Photo credit: PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images
Great connection. Jupiter and its 4 largest moons (550 million miles away) and Saturn (1 billion miles away). Telescope image from Melbourne, Australia by Sajal Chakravorty pic.twitter.com/q5971CTD4A
- Tom Kierein (@TomKierein) December 22, 2020 GuatemalaNew York City, New YorkTexasAlborz Mountains, IranKoh Chang, ThailandBrill, EnglandColorado Springs, ColoradoKuwait City, Kuwait How to Observe the Great Conjunction
Jupiter and Saturn are visible over an erupting volcano in Guatemala before the great conjunction. / Photo credit: Francisco Sojuel / NASA Astronomy Image of the Day
Saturn and Jupiter positioned themselves behind the Statue of Liberty before their conjunction on December 17, 2020 in New York City. / Photo credit: Gary Hershorn / Getty Images
A photographer captures a triple conjunction of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn from Iran's Alborz Mountains after sunset on December 17, 2020, before the major conjunction. / Photo credit: Alireza Vafa / NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day
The Milky Way with Saturn and Jupiter, seen from Koh Chang, Thailand. / Photo credit: Chakarin Wattanamongkol / Getty Images
Jupiter and Saturn come together in the night sky over the sails of the Brill windmill on December 20, 2020 in Brill, England. / Photo credit: Jim Dyson / Getty Images
A picture taken on December 21, 2020 in the al-Salmi district, a desert area 120 km west of Kuwait City, shows the great connection between Jupiter and Saturn. / Photo credit: YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP via Getty Images
The grand conjunction shines brightly just after sunset, low in the southwestern sky, as seen from the northern hemisphere, NASA said.
Throughout December and early January, skywatchers can easily see the two planets with the naked eye. They are so bright that they can be seen even from most cities.
Jupiter currently appears brighter than any star in the sky. Saturn is slightly darker, but still as bright as the brightest stars, with a discernible golden tinge.
Saturn appears slightly above and to the right of Jupiter, and even sees as close to the planet as some of its own moons visible with binoculars or a telescope. Unlike stars that twinkle, both planets have a constant brightness that is easy to find on clear nights.
The event can be observed from anywhere on earth, provided the sky is clear. It's easiest to see along the equator, and it becomes harder to see further north.
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