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May 10, 2021

Saturn and Jupiter hang on solstice night

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Jupiter and four of its moons with Saturn from Lismore last night. Photo Rod Evans.

Last night was the shortest night of the year for people in Australia. For astronomy buffs, it was also the first time in nearly 400 years that Jupiter and Saturn had appeared so close in our skies.

Although they are actually about 700 million kilometres apart, for a short time before they set below the horizon, these two gas giants appeared so close together that some called them the ‘Christmas Star’.

They could easily be seen in the west with the naked eye as two points of light.

Photographer Rod Evans managed to snap the two planets from Lismore using a 1300mm Samyang lens in the fantastic shot reproduced above. Four of Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings can also be seen in the image.

Our own moon was also looking beautiful last night. Photo David Lowe.

It’s been nearly 800 years since this ‘grand conjunction’ took place at night, and the spectacle won’t be repeated until 2080.

Photographers and stargazers from around the world have been sharing pictures of our big planetary neighbours on social media.

From now on, the two planets will gradually appear to become more remote from each other.

For all its failings, 2020 has been a great year for amateur astronomers, with Mars putting on a great show as it came close to Earth earlier in the year and the annual Geminids meteor shower also lighting up the skies recently.


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