KARACHI: Just like astronomers all over the world were excited and eagerly awaiting the winter solstice on Monday when the great Jupiter and Saturn conjunction was to take place, several stargazers in Karachi were also prepared with their telescopes, cameras and android phone applications to witness and record the great event.

And this time it was even more significant because it was in 1623 that these two giant planets of the solar system passed each other this closely in the sky, and it has been 800 years since the alignment occurred in the evening, making it easier to view.

“It’s not a matter of once in a lifetime, it is happening after 800 years,” said Samira Merchant, a very happy resident of PECHS. Happy, because she said she was able to see the conjunction with her naked eye from the rooftop. She even took a picture of it and posted it in the Karachi Astronomers Society (Official) Facebook page.

‘The last time this happened was in Galileo Galilei’s time’

“I had recently heard about this rare aspect about to take place this year and I had been waiting for it. I was constantly watching the planets coming closer and closer to each other,” she told Dawn.

“Then I also shared information about this very rare event with my family and friends. My sister, who lives abroad, saw it, my brother saw it, my younger daughter saw it at home with me and my older one was watching it with her friends in DHA Phase-8,” she said, adding that it was clearest around Maghreb time.

“I was the only one at the seafront at Phase-8 extension looking up at the sky. I was also locating the area in the sky where I should be watching through my android app Solar System Scope,” said Shahbaz Hasan, who had specially driven there to witness the heavenly event.

“There were paan, cigarette and garland sellers bothering me to buy something from them. I was not the least interested and pointed the planets out to them to view also but they thought I was crazy and left me alone to bother some other poor soul. If only they had known what a great moment in history they were missing,” he sighed.

Abubaker Siddiq Shekhani, an astronomy enthusiast and founding member of the Karachi Astronomers Society, said that he also was watching the planets for around 15 days now waiting for them to come the closest. “You know the last time this happened was in Galileo Galilei’s time? But even he was unable to witness it because it happened to be daylight when the two gas giants, the largest planets of our solar system, were nearest to each other,” he said.

Due to the Covid-19 situation, Mr Shekhani, who usually likes to witness such astronomical events with like-minded knowledgeable friends at observatories, was alone on his rooftop on Monday. “I had set up a telescope and a DSLR camera through which I was watching and recording the great event. Many saw it with their naked eyes but they could only see two dots. Some people were also watching through their binoculars but with binoculars, they could see the planets better though the Jupiter moons appeared as dots to them. Meanwhile, the telescope helped me not just focus on the planets but also the four moons of Jupiter with its other features and Saturn and its rings and one moon in one eyepiece,” he said.

“The timing of the planets coming closest coincided with the winter solstice. It was the year’s shortest day and longest night on Dec 21. From now onwards they will start moving apart as the days start becoming longer until the spring equinox.”

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2020

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