Every year, Earth travels through space while orbiting the Sun, and at certain points, she reaches her closest point to other planets in the Solar System.
During mid July, Earth will be at her closest point to Jupiter AND Saturn.
Usually it’s one planet in an event like this, but because Jupiter and Saturn are close together as seen from Earth, this turns the event into a double!
Jupiter and Saturn are both in the same patch of the sky, are currently separated by eight degrees, and getting closer by the day! On July 14, Earth and Jupiter will be at their closest, and then a week later on July 20, Earth and Saturn will be at their closest.
While major news sources will always say that Jupiter and Saturn will be approaching Earth, it’s actually the other way around! For every one year of Jupiter, it’s approximately 12 Earth orbits, and 30 Earth orbits for every year of Saturn! That means it’s actually Earth that approaches the respective planets as if on a cosmic race track, and passes by them.
We call these events oppositions, as on July 14 and July 20, Jupiter and Saturn respectively will be opposite between Earth and the Sun.
Because the two planets will be closest to Earth on their respective dates, this is the best time to check out the two planets at night.
For starts, they will be visible all night, as they will rise at sunset, be at their highest around local midnight, and set at sunrise. They will also be at their brightest for the year, and will also appear slightly bigger through a telescope!
Remember that should you want to check out the two planets, it will be best to see them at midnight, as they will be highest in the sky, and through a telescope should appear at their sharpest thanks to less atmosphere and haze to shine through. Trying to observe them low in the sky while they are rising will not be ideal. Find a good observing location with decent seeing conditions!
After the two planets reach opposition, they will become more prominent in the evening skies after sunset, be popular targets during the late summer and autumn months, and of course the shrinking separation between the two planets will culminate in “The Great Conjunction of 2020” around Winter Solstice this year, a celestial event that you surely will NOT want to miss!
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