When and where you can see a magnificent triangle of lights as Jupiter and Saturn meet the Moon this week

If you want to see something beautiful this week, cast your eyes on the western sky this Thursday evening just after sunset.

For a short time, a crescent moon will sparkle at dusk alongside the two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, before the three celestial bodies sink together into the horizon as darkness builds up. .

Here’s exactly where, when and how you can see the event with the naked eye this week.

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When to see the Moon meet Jupiter and Saturn

On Thursday, November 19, 2020, it will be possible to see – just after sunset – a 28% illuminated Moon next to Saturn (the highest) and Jupiter (the lowest). The two gas giants will be only 3.5 ° from each other.

From Europe the view will be an almost perfect triangle while in North America it will appear to be a strongly elongated triangle, but will be spectacular nonetheless.

It will also be worth watching on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, when just after sunset a 19% illuminated crescent moon will appear approximately 10º below Jupiter (bottom) and Saturn (top).

When will the Moon meet Jupiter and Saturn next time?

Just one more conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon will be observable this year – and it will be the last until 2040.

A conjunction It is when two or more celestial objects appear to be close to each other in the night sky from our perspective on Earth.

On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, a 7% illuminated crescent moon will be visible just below the two planets. However, the Moon will be so close to the horizon that it will take a very low view to the southwest horizon.

The following evening — Thursday, December 17, 2020 — will be the easiest evening to see the conjunction, when a 13% illuminated crescent moon will be just above and southwest of the planets.

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The “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn

However, the real December draw is not the final conjunction three for 20 years, but that Saturn and Jupiter will only be three days before their great conjunction.

On Monday, December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will only be separated by 0.06 °, the closest since July 16, 1623 and until March 15, 2080. They only cross in the solar system once every 20 years, so it is a relatively rare sight, even in a human lifetime.

To the naked eye, the two planets will glow almost as one on December 21, although they are easy to see as separate worlds through binoculars or a small telescope.

How often does the Moon meet Jupiter and Saturn?

It was a common sight in the night sky in 2020. Our Moon is in conjunction with a planet almost every month as it orbits Earth on roughly the same plane as the solar system, known as ecliptic– which is also the path of the Sun in our daytime sky.

Conjunctions are line of sight “events” that are caused by the relative speeds of the planets, including the Earth, as they revolve around the Sun. The fifth planet Jupiter takes 12 Earth years to complete one orbit while the fourth Saturn takes 29 Earth years, so every 20 years they align in the solar system.

The two planets were in fact in alignment with each other and the sun on November 2, 2020, but from our perspective on Earth, Jupiter has “passed” Saturn this year indoors, so they appear to be close together in the night sky.

The Earth is now moving away from the giant planets, so the month of December conjunction is also the finale to see Jupiter and Saturn close together in the night sky.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

Troy M. Hoffman