Saturn And Jupiter Meet In Wyoming Skies December 21

Dec 21, 2020

The planets on Sunday, December 20.  Jupiter is bottom center, with five of its moons visible. Saturn is to the upper right, with its moon Triton barely visible to the right of the planet.
Credit Michael O'Shea

Monday, December 21, is the longest night of the year, but this year there's something to brighten the skies: a planetary conjunction.

University of Wyoming astronomy researcher Harrison Leiendecker said a conjunction happens when planets appear very close together from our view on Earth. He said Jupiter and Saturn will come so close together that they may appear as one object.

"The planets will appear close together in the sky from our point of view, but in reality they're actually still millions of miles apart from each other," said Leiendecker. "The event itself is really cool because this great conjunction hasn't been visible to us for nearly 800 years. This time, we'll see Jupiter catch up with Saturn's position in its orbit."

He said this conjunction could happen on any night of the year, but since it's on the winter solstice, there's a better chance at seeing the planets in the night sky.

Leiendecker said to look to the southwest after sunset to see the planets, which will be visible to the naked eye. To see Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings, you'll need a small telescope or binoculars. The planets will appear close together for the next few days.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.