WAYNE – Two planets in the sky have been drawing closer to each other and Monday at sunset, both Saturn and Jupiter created the “great conjunction” on December 21. This was a rare opportunity to view these planets overlap in the evening, according to a professor of physics and astronomy at Wayne State College.
Known as the popular “Christmas Star” the two bright planets of Jupiter and Saturn appeared about a tenth of a degree apart. Because of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, the two planets get pretty close to each other about every 20 years but it’s all about a timing, according to Dr. Todd Young.
“Here on Earth, we have to be able to be in the right position to be able to see it,” said Dr. Young. “A lot of times this happens but it’s also daytime, so we just simply can’t see it happening. So, the last time where a majority of the world could see it successfully at night goes all the way back to the 1200s.”
The next time the majority of the world should be able to see it in the evening will be in about 2080.
In reality, these planets are still millions upon millions of miles apart but were about five arc-minutes from each other. An Arc minute is a very small measure of an angle as one arc minute is 1/60th of a degree.
Dr. Young stated between 5:45 – 6 p.m. those in Wayne were able to look to the southwest and see the two planets align even with a good pair of binoculars Monday.
Monday, December 21 also marked the Winter Solstice (first day of winter), according to Dr. Young.
“Astronomically, this is the day that the northern hemisphere of the earth is pointed directly away from the sun,” Dr. Young added. “Which means it’s going to give us the longest night and the shortest day of the year. That just means that from here on out the days will start to get longer again.”
Monday was also the Summer Solstice for the southern hemisphere being their first day of Summer.
Dr. Young mentioned our lifetimes are so much shorter than astronomical timelines.
“So, you have to take pause and recognize and take in and enjoy these events,” Dr. Young mentioned. “Because they really do not come hardly within a lifetime; more than once.”
The next solar eclipse that will pass through the continental United States on April 8, 2024. Dr. Young is encouraging those who want to see this to mark their calendars.