The two largest planets in the solar system are within planetary kissing reach, an intimacy that won’t recur until 2080.
The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, have placed themselves within planetary kissing range in the Monday night sky, an intimacy that will not recur until 2080.
This “great conjunction,” as astronomers call it, happened fortuitously at the winter solstice for those in the northern hemisphere and early summer in the global south.
The two planets were, in fact, over 730 million kilometers (400 million miles) apart. But due to their alignment with Earth, they seemed closer to each other than at any time for nearly 400 years.
The optimal conjunction took place at 18:22 GMT.
The best viewing conditions on Monday were in clear skies and near the equator, as people in western Europe and along a large swath of Africa had to train their view to the southwest.
But hundreds of space fans have also gathered in the Indian city of Kolkata to look through a telescope in a city’s technology museum, or from surrounding rooftops and open areas.
And in Kuwait, the astrophotographer traveled to the desert west of Kuwait City to capture this unique event.
Looking through a telescope or even a good pair of binoculars, the two gas giants weren’t separated by more than a fifth of the diameter of a full moon.
But with the naked eye, they would merge into a double “very luminous” planet, declared Florent Deleflie of the Paris Observatory.
“The Great Conjunction refers to the period when two planets have relatively similar positions relative to Earth,” Deleflie said.
“With a small instrument – even a small pair of binoculars – people can see the equatorial bands of Jupiter and its major satellites and the rings of Saturn.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn huddled against them was in 1623, but weather conditions in areas where the meeting could be seen blocked the view.
Visibility was apparently better the period before the Middle Ages, March 4, 1226, to be precise.
Jupiter, which is the largest planet, takes 12 years to revolve around the sun, while Saturn takes 29 years.
Every 20 years or so, they seem to observers on Earth to get closer to each other.