BBC Sky at Night

THE GREAT CONJUNCTION: history in the making

The winter solstice on 21 December is the beginning of astronomical winter for the Northern Hemisphere, and many like to witness or capture the rising and setting of the Sun on this, the shortest day. Astronomers have been anticipating this year’s winter solstice (quite literally) for decades, not because of the solstice itself, but because of the planetary show that will be visible just after the Sun has gone down - to some it may be the greatest astronomical event they witness in their lifetimes.

On 21 December this year the two behemoths of our Solar System - Jupiter and Saturn - will be coming together in what astronomers call a ‘Great Conjunction’, appearing to the naked eye for many as a single bright ‘star’. Indeed, this year’s event is no ordinary one - it will be the closest such conjunction since 1623.

Drawing near

On this evening Jupiter and Saturn conclude their 20-year conjunction cycle, a repeating pattern of close approaches that comes about due to the combination of

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