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In pictures: Earthlings treated to rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn

A conjunction of the two planets takes place about once every 20 years.
Published 22 Dec, 2020 06:08pm

The evening sky over the Northern Hemisphere treated stargazers to a once-in-a-lifetime illusion on Monday as the solar system's two biggest planets appeared to meet in a celestial alignment that astronomers call the “Great Conjunction”.

The rare spectacle resulted from a near convergence of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn that happened to coincide with Monday's winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

For those able to observe the alignment in clear skies, the two frozen-gas spheres appeared closer and more vibrant — almost as a single point of light — than at any time in 800 years.

A conjunction of the two planets takes place about once every 20 years. But the last time Jupiter and Saturn came as close together in the sky as on Monday was in 1623, an alignment that occurred during daylight and was thus not visible from most places on Earth.

The last visible great conjunction occurred long before telescopes were invented, in 1226, halfway through construction of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Jupiter (L) and Saturn appear about one-tenth of a degree apart during an astronomical event known as a Great Conjunction to the left of The STRAT Hotel on Dec 21. — Reuters
Jupiter (L) and Saturn appear about one-tenth of a degree apart during an astronomical event known as a Great Conjunction to the left of The STRAT Hotel on Dec 21. — Reuters

A picture taken on December 21, in al-Salmi district, a desert area 120 kms west of Kuwait City, shows the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. —  AFP
A picture taken on December 21, in al-Salmi district, a desert area 120 kms west of Kuwait City, shows the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. — AFP

Astronomer Blake Estes captures images of the moon during the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21. —  AFP
Astronomer Blake Estes captures images of the moon during the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21. — AFP

People wearing face masks watch the sunset as they wait to see the planets Jupiter and Saturn during the great conjunction at the Griffith Observatory on Dec 21. —  AFP
People wearing face masks watch the sunset as they wait to see the planets Jupiter and Saturn during the great conjunction at the Griffith Observatory on Dec 21. — AFP

People wearing face masks watch the sunset as they wait to see the planets Jupiter and Saturn during the great conjunction at the Griffith Observatory on Dec 21. —  AFP
People wearing face masks watch the sunset as they wait to see the planets Jupiter and Saturn during the great conjunction at the Griffith Observatory on Dec 21. — AFP

Jupiter (L) and Saturn appear about one-tenth of a degree apart during an astronomical event known as a Great Conjunction above Mt. Tamalpais on December 2. —  AFP
Jupiter (L) and Saturn appear about one-tenth of a degree apart during an astronomical event known as a Great Conjunction above Mt. Tamalpais on December 2. — AFP

Groups of people gather near a Christmas tree on the beach as they watch the celestial phenomenon of the planets Jupiter and Saturn align in the sky at Cardiff State Beach on Dec 21. — Reuters
Groups of people gather near a Christmas tree on the beach as they watch the celestial phenomenon of the planets Jupiter and Saturn align in the sky at Cardiff State Beach on Dec 21. — Reuters

Members of the Mota Velazco family use a telescope to view Jupiter and Saturn during a planetary conjunction in Ciudad Juarez on Dec 21. — Reuters
Members of the Mota Velazco family use a telescope to view Jupiter and Saturn during a planetary conjunction in Ciudad Juarez on Dec 21. — Reuters

People stand in a queue to see a 'great conjunction' of Jupiter and Saturn at the Maidan area in Kolkata on December 21. —  AFP
People stand in a queue to see a 'great conjunction' of Jupiter and Saturn at the Maidan area in Kolkata on December 21. — AFP


Header image: Planets Jupiter and Saturn (C, top) are seen above the Los Angeles skyline during the great conjunction as seen from the Griffith Observatory on the same day as the winter solstice on December 21. — AFP