Feature

The Great Conjunction: A Historic Phenomenon

By Elyas Layachi

Volume 1 Issue 4

January 20, 2021

The Great Conjunction: A Historic Phenomenon

Image provided by The Scottish Astrologer

Introduction

In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the four moons of Jupiter, as well as the rings of Saturn. These discoveries were historic in the sense that they changed our outlook on the solar system. First off, seeing that Jupiter also had moons, astronomers realized that the Earth wasn’t at the center of the universe, and that planets and celestial bodies orbited the sun. Just 13 years later, the first observable Great Conjunction ocurred. On December 21st, 2020, the winter solstice and shortest day of the year, this event occurred once again. However, the details make it far more historic than any conjunction within recent history.


A Historic Moment

According to scientists at NASA, the orbits of the planets around the sun is like a race. Here on Earth, we are like the viewers of the race from the side of the track. Jupiter and Saturn are like the runners of the race, and with an average distance of 456 million miles respectively, they can be looked at as racers in different lanes. When the Great Conjunction of December 21st occurred, to us it appeared as if the two runners were overlapping, Jupiter being in the innermost lane and Saturn being in the outermost lane.


While a “great conjunction” usually occurs every twenty years, the great conjunction that occurred on the winter solstice was different in the sense that Jupiter and Saturn were not only lining up in the night sky, but they were also the closest they’ve ever been to each other in over 400 years, less than 0.2 degrees. The next time they will be this close in the observable sky is March 15th, 2080. Many people were interested and observed from various locations at which the Great Conjunction could be seen, from New York to Guatemala and even Australia.


Other Phenomena in 2021

The great conjunction was a great astronomical way to end 2020 and set ourselves up for 2021, another year of major astronomical events. One of these includes a total lunar eclipse. At the end of May, when the sun, Earth, and moon align perfectly, a total lunar eclipse will occur, and it will be the first total lunar eclipse visible for most of the U.S. since 2019, so prepare to watch it this spring! On January 2nd and 3rd, the Quadrantids meteor shower occurred, with many more meteor showers occurring this year (check the following website for a calendar of astronomical events: Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2021 - Sea and Sky (seasky.org)) In addition to astronomical events occurring, NASA will begin its efforts to send humans to the Moon, with the official beginning of its Artemis program (to be covered in a later article).