NEW YORK (Reuters) – On Monday, the evening sky over the Northern Hemisphere subjected stargazers to a once-in-a-lifetime illusion when the two largest planets of the solar system appeared to intersect in a celestial alignment dubbed the “Great Conjunction” by astronomers.
The unusual spectacle resulted from the close conjunction of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, which occurred on the shortest day of the year, coinciding with Monday’s winter solstice. The two frozen-gas spheres seemed similar and more vivid for those able to witness the alignment in clear skies – almost as a single point of light – than at any time in 800 years.
Henry Throop, an astronomer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington, said that Jupiter – the brighter and larger of the pair – has been steadily circling Saturn in the sky for weeks as the two planets pass around the sun, each in its own lane in an enormous celestial racetrack.
“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 Dec. 21,” Throop said in a statement last week.