Backyard Observatory

Jupiter & Saturn Are Coming Together for an Alignment Not Seen Since the Middle Ages

The gas giants will appear to kiss in the sky.

Jupiter and saturn conjuction
Venus (left) and Jupiter (right) shine over a lake in southern Alberta. | Alan Dyer /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Venus (left) and Jupiter (right) shine over a lake in southern Alberta. | Alan Dyer /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The coming conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn has already captured the attention of people around the world. Maybe it's because people are calling it the "Christmas star." Maybe it's because we haven't seen this happen since the middle ages. Maybe it's just because it'll be gorgeous.

Whatever the reason, Jupiter and Saturn are headed for a great conjunction on December 21, 2020. The two gas giants, the largest planets in our solar system, will appear almost on top of each other, forming a double planet, their closest approach to each other from our view since 1226.

What is the great conjunction?

A conjunction occurs when two celestial objects come together from our perception on Earth. They take place with some regularity between planets and our moon. A conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter is rare. That's why it's often referred to as a great conjunction. 

Great conjunctions take place a little less than once every 20 years. That does not, however, mean that we can see that every 20 years. The event can happen while the sun is up blocking the conjunction from view. So, we see a conjunction between the two—a moment when they come close together in the sky—less often than that. 

It'd be a delightful sight in any year, but this year, the planets are going to come closer together than they have in any year since 1226. It's also the closest a great conjunction has taken place since 1623. It's a remarkable event, and you start to see why stargazers are already getting excited. 

At their closest approach, Jupiter and Saturn will be just 0.1 degrees apart from each other, and both planets will be visible simultaneously through a telescope.

The duo will be visible immediately after sunset for just a short time. So, don't miss your opportunity to catch the sight. Though, you won't have to wait another 794 years for them to come this close again. They'll match this approach in March 2080, just a short 60 years from now. That's a little less than the time between February and December this year. 

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.
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