Prepare to witness a Celestial event tonight, as the Universe puts on a spectacular show!

Tonight, just after sunset South Africans will be able to witness the spectacular conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, as these two planets line up in the night sky.  This extremely occurrence hasn’t happened in nearly 400 years.  The last time Jupiter and Saturn were this close, was on the 16th of July 1623.

Dr Daniel Cunnama, Science Engagement Astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory, that the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn would be visible in South African skies on 21 December.

This great conjunction occurs during the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice on 21 December, being the longest day of the year; and the Northern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, being the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight hours.

This once in a life-time event will be visible with the naked eye in clear skies across the world.  

The Great Conjunction

This solar system chart shows the positions of Jupiter and Saturn during the “great conjunction” on Dec. 21, 2020, when the two planets will appear just one-tenth of a degree apart in the night sky. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Celestia)

How To Best See the Great Conjunction 

To witness this spectacular celestial event, settle yourself down at a good vantage point, looking west, after sunset, between 7:00 and 8:00 pm (CAT). If you have a pair of binoculars, or a telescope, you will easily see Jupiter and Saturn separately in the same field of view. We will see  Jupiter and Saturn separated by just 6 arc minutes. That’s equal to 0.1 degrees or about one-fifth the apparent width of the moon.

I did some research and it is fascinating to note that, one of the more popular theories for the “Christmas Star” was a series of conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC.  For in that year Jupiter and Saturn met not once but three times that year (in May, September and December).

The first conjunction (on May 29 — visible “in the east” before sunrise) presumably started the Magi on their way to Bethlehem from the Far East.  The middle conjunction (September 30) may have strengthened their resolve in the purpose of their journey, while the third and final conjunction (Dec. 5) occurred just as they arrived in Judea to meet with King Herod, who sent them on to Bethlehem to “go and search diligently for the young child.”

The next time that these two planets will come this close will be on the 15th of March 2080.

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