Duo at the top of the skies. Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in the solar system, are currently showing their cosmic and historic rendezvous, since it will not happen again before 2080. The event, nicknamed the “Great conjunction”, is also qualified of “Star of Christmas”, so much the proximity of the two stars makes it inclined to mix them in a single luminous point. The “climax” of this meeting took place Monday, December 21, 2020. At 7:22 pm, the two gas giants were no longer separated by only 730 million kilometers: a minimum distance which gives the impression that they are brushing against each other, seen at through an observation instrument.
Some moons of Saturn and Jupiter also visible
The phenomenon has resulted in stunning shots, which astronomers, amateurs or not, have sometimes posted on Twitter. Thus, these images made by a celestial photography enthusiast, Greg Hogan, “network security specialist by day, astrophotographer by night” According to the Twitter profile of this resident of Georgia, in the United States:
The Christmas Star. I did a long exposure to allow the light to soak into the barrel of the telescope and bounce off its internal mirrors and hardware to create this beautiful effect. The 2nd picture is what it looked like from the eyepiece, rings of Saturn and Jupiter’s moons. pic.twitter.com/jAt802ALAB
– Greg Hogan (@gregoryhogan) December 22, 2020
In this other image, taken by another American, Ed Piotrowski, also an amateur photographer, we see four moons of Jupiter: Europe, Ganymede, Io and Callisto. To the right of Saturn, its Titan satellite also appears.
Tea #GreatConjunction of #Jupiter and #Saturn thru my telescope just after 6pm. 4 of Jupiter’s moons; Europa, Ganymede, Io & Callisto, and Saturn’s Titan moon visible. Stacked many images for more clarity and color. Nexstar Celestron 6SE with Nikon D750 attached. #scwx #ncwx pic.twitter.com/vzP2IAuFnS
– Ed Piotrowski (@EdPiotrowski) December 22, 2020
The “Great conjunction” was also (and only) in the 17th and 13th century
The astronomy platform Slooh also published a live of the event, embellished with many pictures of the conjunction.
And since in such circumstances it seems impossible not to wink at Star Wars, let’s end with this tweet which takes us to a detour by the dear Tatooine.
– Juan Campos (@Sealwithsmiles) December 22, 2020
Such a rapprochement between Saturn and Jupiter had not occurred since the 17th century. It was in July, so impossible to speak about it of a “Christmas star”, moreover much too close to our real star, the Sun, for the phenomenon to have been observable. In reality, we have to go back 4 centuries to find such a configuration visible to the naked eye. Patience is definitely a virtue.