Jupiter and Saturn Align for the First Time in Nearly 800 Years


Patrick Heydasch

For the first time in nearly 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn will align together.

Patrick Heydasch, Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly eight hundred years, people on Earth will be able to see the two gas giants, Saturn and Jupiter, separated by 0.1 degrees. The alignment of the two planets has not happened since 1226.

The alignment has been named a “conjunction” by Patrick Hartigan, a physics and astronomy professor at Rice University. Hartigan also states that “it is fair to say that this conjunction is truly exceptional in that the planets get very close to one another.” During the conjunction, both planets will be visible with the naked eye. All that is needed is the right viewing spot with no tall buildings and mountains to block the observer’s vision.

“I am going to try and watch the event with my family, as we do not want to miss our chance to see this astrological event,” sophomore Patrick Keough said.

The conjunction will occur on Dec. 21 at around 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. It is recommended to look towards the southwestern sky. There will be around one hour to find the planets before they slowly drift apart. It can help to use Google’s Sky Map, an application that can find planets based on which direction the phone is facing.

Every twenty years, Jupiter and Saturn align together. Jupiter and Saturn’s last conjunction was in 2000. The difference with this conjunction is that the two planets will appear to be separated by one-fifth of the full moon parameter, which is 0.1 degrees. The last time Jupiter and Saturn were this close together was in the Middle Ages, eight hundred years ago.

“They will appear to be almost a double planet,” said Patrick Hartigan. The event is considered significant in the scientific world, as the last time anything close to the conjunction occurred in 1226. Viewers are suggested to partake in the experience to witness such a rare event.

“I think this conjunction is very cool. I would recommend not to miss this, as the next time it is going to happen is in 80 years,” sophomore Nathaniel Leiva said.

Saturn will appear just to the east of Jupiter and both planets will have a consistent brightness. The only downside is that as the farther the viewer is from the equator, the more challenging it becomes to see the conjunction. However, those in the Coral Gables area will not have much of a problem due to its latitude of 25 degrees.

“This will be the greatest great conjunction for the next sixty years, until 2080,” said Hartigan. Suppose there is a chance the viewer misses the conjunction on Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will still appear to be closer than the diameter of a full moon from Dec. 16 to Dec. 25. If in the case the viewer misses the entire conjunction, the next available opportunity will be in eighty years. Any person willing to spend some time experiencing this unique event is encouraged to take a moment to go outside and look up at the stars.

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