Monday, December 21, 2020

Science & Education : The Great Conjunction Jupiter/Saturn

credits: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo
via The Guardian

It seems Jupiter and Saturn have decided to put on quite an unusual show for the world to see on the first day of Winter, Northern Hemisphere. The fact that this event is happening during the winter solstice is pure coincidence, according to NASA.

The two largest planets in our solar system are coming closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages, and it's happening just in time for Christmas, the nickname of the "Christmas Star." 

Astronomers are gearing up for a heavenly spectacle when Jupiter and Saturn huddle closer together in the evening sky than they have for nearly 400 years.

Jupiter and Saturn will align in this night sky December 21  an event astronomers call the "great conjunction" - also referred to as the "Christmas Star", marking the planets' closest encounter in nearly 400 years.

The celestial event will play out tody when the solar system’s two largest planets appear side by side in a “great conjunction” above the horizon soon after sunset.

Celebrating Winter 2020 and The Great Conjunction! (Northern Hemisphere)

  • Google Doodle:

Today’s animated Doodle celebrates the Northern Hemisphere’s first day of winter as well as this rare double planet sighting or “Great Conjunction” which can be viewed from anywhere around the globe!   

As Earth’s Northern Hemisphere hunkers down for winter and its longest night of the year, it seems Jupiter and Saturn have decided to put on quite an unusual show for the world to see! 

So what exactly is creating this celestial phenomenon? Based on their orbits, from our vantage point on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn will cross within .1 degrees of each other (a fraction of the width of the full moon), a once-in-a-lifetime rendezvous recreated in the Doodle artwork. But looks can be deceiving, as the two gas giants will actually remain a vast distance of approximately 450 million miles apart! 

Christmas Star 2020

What has become known popularly as the “Christmas Star” is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21.

In the distant past, such alignments of the planets were seen as portents of things to come, from great fires and floods to the birth of Christ and the ultimate collapse of civilisation.

  • Religious side of Christmas star:  

The phenomenon has, consequently, been likened to the Biblical Christmas Star as described in the Gospel of Matthew.

Christmas Star 2020: The Three Wise Men followed the Star of Bethlehem

credits: Getty Images

Some astronomers also speculate the fabled Star of Bethlehem that led the Three Wise Men to the newly-born Jesus Christ may have been a Great Conjunction of the two gas giants.

When Saturn and Jupiter converge on December 21, the two planets may appear as a bright point of light that will be easily visible in the night sky. The two planets have slowly been moving closer to each other over the past few weeks.

credits: Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“It’s really special to have Jupiter and Saturn visible so close together,” said Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. “It’s something that’s nice to go out and spot.”

A conjunction occurs when planets appear incredibly close to one another in the sky because they line up with Earth in their respective orbits.

But let's come back some centuries...

Galileo Galilei
portrait by Justus Sustermans, 1636

  • Some information:

In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope to the night sky, discovering the four moons of Jupiter Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto

In that same year, Galileo also discovered a strange oval surrounding Saturn, which later observations determined to be its rings. These discoveries changed how people understood the far reaches of our solar system.

“The cool thing is that Galileo first observed Jupiter and Saturn in 1610, which is 13 years before the last really close conjunction. But there is no record of anyone observing the 1623 conjunction through a telescope,” 

Thirteen years later, in 1623, the solar system’s two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, traveled together across the sky. Jupiter caught up to and passed Saturn, in an astronomical event known as a Great Conjunction

Great Conjunction 2020

From our vantage point on Earth the huge gas giants will appear very close together, but they will remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. And while the conjunction is happening on the same day as the winter solstice, the timing is merely a coincidence, based on the orbits of the planets and the tilt of the Earth.

“You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium,” (...) “From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21.”

Henry Throop, astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, with the positions of Jupiter and Saturn being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years.

This year, the planets will appear in the sky one-fifth of the width of a full moon apart. The event coincides with the winter solstice, when the tilt of the northern hemisphere away from the sun produces the shortest day and the longest night.

Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits"

Henry Throop 

“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.”

The great solstice conjunction

December 2021

credits: Colleen Quinnell

Skywatchers are in for an end-of-year treat. What has become known popularly as the “Christmas Star” is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21.

It’s Jupiter and Saturn doing a planetary dance that will result in the Great Conjunction on Dec. 21. On that day, Jupiter and Saturn will be right next to each other in the sky -- the closest they have appeared in nearly 400 years! Want to learn when and where to look up? Join our expert astronomer Dr. Henry Throop on #NASAScience Live.

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
/Southwest Research Institute

  • How & where to watch?

Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen in areas with clear skies and no cloud cover, and even from most cities. This also means that the event can be seen with the naked eye. However, binoculars or a small telescope may allow viewers to see Jupiter's four large moons, according to the statement. 


Impossible kids with their families, the oldest in a skywatchers group will go to admire such a awesome event.

We are all excited about the Geminids shower. Science teachers, and families.

Do you remember the Geminids shower first days of December? What a sky show full of stars. 

But this is quite exceptional! Christmas Star or the Great Conjunction!

Now teachers and students are on Christmas holiday. I'm sure science teachers told their students to register the moment

So, once again, science curriculum will be enhanced with the help of thia amazing event in the sky.

Do you want a better science lesson ? A beautiful 
live science class. Wow! An event for life.

Don't forget to follow: NASA on Facebook or Twitter. I preferer Twitter!

Galileo per gioco
Testi: Valentina Orlando
Illustrazioni: Celina Elmi

Resources for kids: book (Italian)

La storia dell’umanità è ricca di uomini e donne che hanno realizzato qualcosa di eccezionale. C’è chi ha contribuito con le proprie scoperte a conoscere meglio il mondo, chi ha regalato ai posteri grandi opere d’arte e chi ha compiuto gesti memorabili facendo avanzare la nostra società. Attraverso le avventure di Mattia, un ragazzino a volte pasticcione ma sempre curioso di nuove esperienze, conosceremo da vicino le vite e le molteplici imprese di questi grandi personaggi.

Galileo per gioco
Testi: Valentina Orlando
Illustrazioni: Celina Elmi

In questo volume incontreremo il padre della scienza moderna, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

Matematico, fisico e astronomo, Galileo ha saputo guardare la realtà con occhi nuovi, con coraggio e tenacia, consegnando al genere umano una nuova visione dell’universo. 

Galileo per gioco
Testi: Valentina Orlando
Illustrazioni: Celina Elmi

Attraverso un divertente dialogo fra passato e presente, Galileo stesso racconterà gli eventi principali della sua vita e delle sue invenzioni al vivace Mattia. Fra le pagine del libro, i giovani lettori potranno trovare gli appunti della bacheca di Mattia, con approfondimenti e curiosità.

Le Rêve de Galileo: animation (French)

Le Rêve de Galileo
Fabienne ColletGil Alkabetz, 2011

Le Rêve de Galileo fut un programme pan-européen de cinq courts métrages d'animation (40 min.) sur le thème le ciel et les étoiles qui s'adresse aux plus petits.

"Le Soleil est-il la «star» de l’univers ? Que deviennent les étoiles lorsqu’elles meurent ? Où se trouve la plus belle étoile ? La curiosité des enfants pour les mystères de l’univers trouvera des réponses oniriques et poétiques dans ces comptines enchanteresses."

Il a gagné le Prix du Meilleur Film d'Animation au Festival de Douarnenez.

Le Rêve de Galileo
Fabienne ColletGil Alkabetz, 2011

Le Rêve de Galileo de Ghislain Avrillon (France, 4 min.) raconte l'histoire d'un petit garçon qui veut voler toujours plus haut.

"Dans Le Rêve de Galileo, le soleil se lève pour une journée rayonnante pleine d’humour et de douceur. Galileo vole vers Cassiopée et tous deux papillonnent dans les nuages. Plus au Nord, la P’tite Ourse s’interroge sur les étoiles polaires, et une grand mère s’habille pour l’hiver... couvrant tout ce qu’elle peut de ses jolis tricots bleus. Enfin, la petite Margarita plonge dans l’histoire qui lui est contée, celle d’une quête pour décrocher l’étoile duciel tant convoitée." 



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