The Great Conjunction

“Tonight I am going to give you a lesson in Astronomy. At dead of night two noble planets, Tarva and Alambil, will pass within one degree of each other. Such a conjunction has not occurred for two hundred years, and you will not live to see it again. … Look well upon them. Their meeting is fortunate and means some great good for the sad realm.”

The initiated few may recognize that as a quote from the Chronicles of Narnia (which I highly recommend for any parents of young or not-so-young children).

However, back here in the sad realm of reality, we’ll still get to see the two most noble planets of our solar system cross paths in the sky in the next several days. Jupiter and Saturn, which have been visible in the night sky for several weeks, will meet on the winter solstice, December 21.

The conjunction of these planets actually occurs about every 20 years, due to the orbital periods of the two planets (Jupiter orbits the sun once every 12 years, Saturn orbits once every 20). Since Jupiter and Saturn are our Sun’s two greatest planets, astronomers call it “The Great Conjunction”. And this year’s edition is special for multiple reasons: first, it’s the closest conjunction of the two planets in some 400 years. Second, since the event will happen during a young moon with the planets well positioned in the sky, it will be the most easily viewable conjunction in almost 800 years, since 1226. Astronomers don’t know exactly how the two planets will look almost superimposed upon each other in the sky. But it will be grand and bright – and the best chance to see the event for the next sixty years. Third, it will happen on the winter solstice, which somehow adds to the mystery and portent. In fact, the portent could only be greater if it happened during a blood moon on the last day of the Mayan calendar with civilization about to collapse during the throes of a major pandemic… oh, wait.

Ok, I will not opine on what this conjunction means for the human race, although (doing some quick research) it seems like the one back in 1226 didn’t seem to do much to stop the Mongol invasions, save the Song Dynasty, or prevent William Wallace from getting disemboweled. So I will forego prophecies, find a spot with a good view of the southwestern sky, and enjoy a rare display of beauty that I don’t plan to see again in my lifetime. While making portentous-sounding comments to my kids.  

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Tim Carr

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