A Rare Celestial Treat Is Still Visible The Last Week of December

Dec 22, 2020

The telescope KVCR's Megan Jamerson and her father Jimmy Jamerson used to view the great conjunction.

On December 21, the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, paid each other a rare holiday visit, appearing so close in the sky they nearly looked like one big star. KVCR’s Megan Jamerson has a special story of catching this rare celestial event with her father, Jimmy Jamerson.

MEGAN JAMERSON: “Ok, Dad where are we and what are we doing?”

JIMMY JAMERSON: "We’re down the street from our house in a vacant lot, trying to look at the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter through a telescope.”

In case you missed all of the news coverage, on the winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn appeared about a dime’s width apart, nearly touching in the southwest portion of the sky. In reality, that tiny distance is hundreds of millions of miles apart. Every 20 years, these planets orbit this close and it’s known as a great conjunction, and last time it was visible at night was the Middle Ages, in the year 1226.

JIMMY JAMERSON: "It looks like one star that has fuzzy edges on it.”

MEGAN JAMERSON: “Does it look like one big star?”

JIMMY JAMERSON: “Yes, it looks like one big star.”

Binoculars could help you distinguish the distance between the two planets, but we decided to go all in and dust off Great Uncle Ed’s trusty 1950s Criterion Dynascope telescope.

MEGAN JAMERSON: “So why go through all this effort? Why not just sit at home on the couch and watch it being streamed by NASA?”

JIMMY JAMERSON: “It’s a world of difference to be outside, to look up in the sky and you see the moon, the [planet] mars to the left of the moon, and then this bright star on the horizon. And more importantly, we’ve got something in common with people 800 years ago, 1200 AD, where they stood out here to see it and look. So, we’ve got something in common, and the whole thing just makes it way more interesting to me to be outside.”

Now we point the telescope a few degrees to the right, then the left, and:

JIMMY JAMERSON: “I see not one star, but I see two planets. But I see Saturn with its rings on the left, and I see Jupiter on the right.”

The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn seen in Redlands, CA on December 21, 2020.

Over the last week of December, you will still be able to catch the planet pair during that first hour after sunset, as they now gradually drift apart. The next chance to see this planetary event will be in 2080, 60 years from now.