Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be just one-tenth of a degree
On December 21, 2020, the evening sky treated stargazers to a unique illusion as the planets Jupiter and Saturn appeared to meet in a celestial alignment known as the “Great Conjunction”.
It was a rare spectacle that was seen in many countries, including India.
For those who were able to see the alignment, the two planets appeared closer and more vibrant than at any time in 800 years.
The brighter of the two, Jupiter has been gradually nearing Saturn for weeks as the two planets proceed around the sun.
In a statement, astronomer Henry Throop had said:
“From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21.”
According to NASA, at the convergence point, Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be just one-tenth of a degree apart when in reality, they remained hundreds of millions of miles apart.
A conjunction of the two planets takes place about once every 20 years.
However, the last time Jupiter and Saturn came this close was in 1623, an alignment that occurred during the day and was not visible from most places on Earth.
The last visible conjunction occurred in 1226.
The spectacle’s heightened brightness of the two planets has led to speculation about whether they formed the “Christmas star”.
However, astronomer Billy Teets said that a Great Conjunction is only one of several possible explanations for the “Christmas star”.
“I think that there is a lot of debate as to what that might have been.”
Astronomers had said that the best way to view the phenomenon was by looking toward the southwest in an open area about an hour after sunset.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics said:
“Big telescopes don’t help that much, modest binoculars are perfect, and even the eyeball is okay for seeing that they are right together.”
In Kolkata, stargazers gathered at the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum as the museum made arrangements to view the conjunction through a telescope.
People took to rooftops and open grounds in different parts of Kolkata and West Bengal, however, the winter fog partially hindered the view.
The next Great Conjunction between the two planets comes in November 2040 though they will not be nearly as close together.
A closer alignment will be in March 2080, with the following close conjunction in August 2417.