Jupiter and Saturn's 'great conjunction': When Guru & Shani meet, forget the social distancing
Jupiter and Saturn's 'great conjunction': When Guru & Shani meet, forget the social distancing
Video Screengrab/@physicsJ

The year of catastrophe confounded is on its way out, in celestial style. Tomorrow, the shortest day (longest night) or Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, in the week of Christmas, there will be drama in the sky, one that the whole world can watch, according to NASA.

Jupiter and Saturn will be the closest they have been in four centuries -- no mere mortal social distancing for heavenly bodies, or six degrees of separation -- with just one-tenth of a degree between them, astronomically speaking, or about one-fifth the width of a full moon.

Despite what looks like a 'merger' from our vantage point, Jupiter and Saturn will actually be more than 450 million miles (730 million kilometres) apart. Earth, meanwhile, will be 550 million miles (890 million kilometres) from Jupiter.

The duo will seem like one big star, like the Christmas star or the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in the Bible, which is believed to have appeared in the eastern sky when Jesus was born, guiding the three wise men to Jerusalem.

For weeks now, the planets have been drawing closer in the south-southwest sky, with Jupiter, bigger and closer to Earth being vastly brighter. Saturn will be the smaller, fainter blob at Jupiter's upper right. Binoculars will be needed to separate the two planets.

Such so-called conjunctions between the two largest planets in our solar system aren't particularly rare, astronomers tell us. Jupiter passes its neighbour Saturn in their respective laps around the sun every 20 years.

Where should we be looking? They should be easily visible around the world, a little after sunset, weather permitting, say the experts. To see it, be ready shortly after sunset Monday, looking to the southwest fairly low on the horizon.

It will be the closest Jupiter-Saturn pairing since July 1623, when the two planets appeared a little nearer.

This conjunction was almost impossible to see, however, because of its closeness to the sun.

Considerably closer and in plain view was the March 1226 conjunction of the two planets — when Genghis Khan was conquering Asia.

Monday's conjunction will be the closest pairing that is visible since way back then. A telescope will not only capture Jupiter and Saturn in the same field of view, but even some of their brightest moons.

Their next super-close pairing: March 15, 2080.

If you miss it, you can watch it on NASA’s website or its Facebook page or on YouTube.

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