The Great Conjunction: NASA explain upcoming space event
Great Conjunctions are an unforgettable event that describes the meeting of our solar system’s biggest gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn. The conjunctions are fairly rare as they only happen once every 20 years due to the planets’ lengthy orbits of the Sun. But tonight’s conjunction is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event because it will not be matched by another one so close until 2080.
From our point of view, the conjunction will bring Jupiter and Saturn within 0.1 degrees of one another or about one-fifth of the Full Moon’s width.
The last time a Great Conjunction brought the gas giants this close was in 1623, although it was not readily visible then.
Before that, the last closest Great Conjunction we could see occurred in 1226.
But what if bad weather spoils the view or you are shielding at home from the pandemic?
The good news is you can watch the conjunction here on Express.co.uk, courtesy of The Virtual Telescope Project in Italy.
How to watch the Great Conjunction live online tonight:
Jupiter and Saturn will become visible to the naked eye within half-an-hour to an hour after sunset.
When viewed from London, for instance, the Sun will set today at about 3.53pm GMT.
As the skies darken with the setting Sun, you will be able to join the live broadcast embedded above.
The live stream is pencilled in to kick off at exactly 3.30pm GMT
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Hosted by The Virtual Telescope Project, the stream will follow the two planets as they wander across the sky.
Gianluca Masi, an astrophysicist and head of the Virtual Telescope, said: “After 400 years, the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are ready to amaze us with an exceptionally close conjunction.
“While they apparently meet up there every 20 years, next December 21 they will be at their closest since 1623.
“Something so rare and unique that you cannot miss it.
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“This will happen on the day marking the 2020 Winter Solstice!
“The Virtual Telescope Project is ready to bring this one-in-a-lifetime experience to you, online, so that you can join live from the comfort of your home.
According to some reports, the planets will come close enough tonight to resembled a single body or elongated star.
It is, however, most likely you will be able to distinguish the planets from one another, even with the naked eye.
The planets will be co close tonight that if you extend your arm and raise your pinky, you will easily cover both worlds.
Jupiter and Saturn: Animation demonstrates conjunction
And yet, despite appearing so close, in reality, the planets will be hundreds of millions of miles from each other.
Henry Throop, an astronomer at NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said: “Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits.
“The date of the conjunction is determined by the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth in their paths around the Sun, while the date of the solstice is determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis.
“The solstice is the longest night of the year, so this rare coincidence will give people a great chance to go outside and see the solar system.”
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