The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, will be within planetary kissing range on Monday night skies, an intimacy that will not recur until 2080.
This “grand conjunction” as it is known to astronomers happens coincidentally at the winter solstice for those in the northern hemisphere and at the beginning of summer in the global south.
In fact, the two planets will be more than 730 million kilometers apart.
However, because of their orientation with respect to the earth, they appear to be closer together than at any point in nearly 400 years.
The optimal “conjunction” should take place around 1822 GMT.
With a telescope or even good binoculars, the two gas giants will be no more than a fifth the diameter of a full moon apart.
With the naked eye, they will merge into a “highly luminous” double planet, said Florent Deleflie of the Paris Observatory.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn got this close was in 1623, but weather conditions in regions where the reunification was seen blocked the view.
The visibility was obviously better in the time before in the Middle Ages, more precisely on March 4, 1226.
The best visibility conditions on Monday are clear skies and near the equator.
People in Western Europe and across much of Africa need to train their view of the Southwest.
“The grand conjunction refers to the time when two planets have relatively similar positions with respect to Earth,” said Deleflie.
Jupiter, the larger planet, takes 12 years to revolve around the Sun while Saturn takes 29 years.
Every 20 years or so, they seem to get closer to observers on Earth.
“With a small instrument – even small binoculars – people can see Jupiter’s equatorial bands and its main satellites, as well as Saturn’s rings,” Deleflie said.
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