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December 21, 2020 | The Great Meeting of Jupiter and Saturn

Two giant planets; The long-awaited grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, December 21, is now just hours away. Why is the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn important? Where to observe When will it happen again? You can find answers to all these questions and more in this article.

Why Is It Called Big Meeting?

We call this the “big” meeting because for ancient skywatchers these were the two slowest moving planets in the sky. Mercury, Venus and Mars are relatively close, so their meetings occur more frequently. Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun takes approximately 12 years , Saturn’s orbit around the Sun 29.5 years. A conjunction of these planets was quite unusual because of their slow motion.

Such encounters, in most cases, occur on average approximately every 20 years and the angular size between them is generally more than 1 degree at these meetings. However, this time meeting is at a level to be expressed in units of arc-minute , which is now below the degree. That is why the great meeting of Jupiter and Saturn or is called the great conjunction.

A simulation image showing the situation of Jupiter and Saturn in the sky with a wide angle after sunset on December 21st.

Will They Be Physically Close To Each Other?

No , since these two giant planets align with our direction of view along their orbits, they will appear in our sky as if they are approaching each other . In fact, both planets continue to orbit in their respective orbits . Even on December 21 will be as much as 733 million km .

If we could see the orbits of the planets by leaving the Earth and going to a distant location perpendicular to the axis of the Solar System , we could see how far Jupiter and Saturn actually remained from each other. For example if you were on Mars you would encounter a different scene again and you would observe that the angular distance between the two planets 3 degrees .

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Simulation image showing how Jupiter, Saturn and Earth align in December.

How Close Will They Look?

On December 21st, the distance between them in the sky will be as close as 0.102 degrees, or 6 arc-minutes . You can compare it as follows: The area covered by the moon in the full moon in the sky is on average 0.5 degrees or 30 arc-minutes . So the distance between these two planets corresponds to an area that is 5 times smaller than the diameter of the Moon .

If you look through a telescope, you can see both Jupiter’s giant moons and Saturn’s giant moons in the same field of view.

As another example, we can give the stars Alcor and Mizar , which are often looked for to test how well your eyes see. The angular distance between these stars is 11 arc-minutes. So again, at the big meeting on December 21, the two planets that appear close will appear almost 2 times closer than even the stars of Alcor and Mizar. So if you can see Saturn and Jupiter separately when you look with the naked eye, we can say that your eyes have a good advanced vision.

Simulation image showing the angular distance of the stars Alcor and Mizar from each other in the Ursa Major Constellation.

Where Can It Be Observed?

Larger meeting, Turkey can be observed in many parts of the world, including the 60 degrees latitude, and you’ll be on the observers will see this celestial event. Because at these positions, the horizon height of the two planets will be very low and it will be extremely difficult to observe since they will sink with the Sun.

When Is The Next Big Meeting?

From past to future, for centuries, you can find out when these two giant planets met, how close they were, and whether they were observable or not:

Date

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Distinction

Time

Observability

March 26 372

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2 arc-minutes

morning

yes

December 31 431

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6 arc-minutes

evening

yes

23 July 769

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4 arc-minutes

morning

no

March 5 1226

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5 arc-minutes

morning

yes

July 16 1623

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5 arc-minutes

evening

no

December 21 2020

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6 arc-minutes

evening

yes

March 15 2080

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6 arc-minutes

morning

yes

24 August 2417

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5 arc-minutes

morning

yes

6 July 2477

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6 arc-minutes

evening

yes

December 25 2874

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2 arc-minutes

evening

yes

As a result, according to this list, the two giant planets get very close to each other, on average every 300 years . However, only two of them on the list were barely visible or not visible at all. If we take this into account, we can say that the average has risen to 375 years. But this is just an average. Note that 794 years passed between 1226 and the 2020 meeting. Conversely, there is only a 60-year interval between the dates 2417 and 2477 .

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