Remember the Great Conjunction of 21 December 2021 when Jupiter and Saturn appeared extremely close to each other? The Great Conjunction was the closest approach of the two planets in 800 years, as seen from the Earth. This rare phenomenon occurs when Jupiter laps the ringed beauty every 19.6 years. Since then, the angular distance between the two gas giants has been increasing. Now, Jupiter is going to cross paths with the tiniest planet of the solar system – Mercury. The Jupiter and Mercury conjunction is the flagship astronomical event of this month. So here’s everything you need to know about this rare celestial event taking place on March 5.
Note: Make sure you have one of these space apps to quickly locate the planets.
What is a conjunction?
A conjunction is a celestial event in which two bodies appear to pass close to each other, as seen from the Earth. The Moon often passes by different planets in its 29-day cycle. But that’s not the case with the planets. Planetary conjunctions are rare. The last major planetary conjunction was the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, when the two bodies passed within 0.1 degrees of each other. Jupiter and Saturn were close enough to fit within the view of a telescope. On January 9-10, triple conjunction took place among Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury. However, it wasn’t a close encounter, and because of their proximity to the Sun, the trio wasn’t readily visible with naked eyes.
However, the March 5 conjunction of Jupiter and Mercury will be easily visible with naked eyes. It will be an extremely close encounter of the smallest and the biggest planet of the solar system. Before we learn how to see the conjunction, look at what’s really happening in the solar system.
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What’s happening in the Solar System?
Look at the image given above. It’s the position of the planets on the day of the Great Conjunction (21 Dec 2020). As seen from the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn almost aligned and appeared at a separation of a mere 6 arcmins (0.1 degrees). The planets are rotating counterclockwise. Fast forward to March 5, 2021:
A lot has changed in three months. Jupiter has lapped Saturn. The Earth has moved along its orbit, and now it has come in a straight line (roughly) with Jupiter and Mercury. Consequently, Jupiter and Mercury will appear close to each other on 5 March 2021.
How to see the Jupiter and Mercury conjunction?
To see the two planets almost ‘kiss’ each other, you will need to be an early bird. Since Jupiter recently passed behind the Sun, it is an early morning object. The pair will be visible in the dawn sky, rising about an hour before the Sun and reaching an altitude of roughly 12° (latitudes of the Indian subcontinent) above the south-eastern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks. You can use these space apps to locate the planets in the sky quickly according to your location.
Jupiter and Mercury will be 19.4 arcmins apart. That roughly equals 0.3 degrees or two-thirds the width of the moon. The planets will be close enough to fit within a telescopic view. But you don’t need one to spot these two planets. Jupiter will be shining brightly at mag -2.0 and Mercury at mag +0.1. Both objects will lie in the constellation Capricornus.
They will remain close to each other in the surrounding days. Jupiter is currently emerging from behind the Sun and in the coming months, it will become an evening object. The planet will make its closest approach to the Earth on August 20.
Once the eastern sky is lit with the morning twilight, the planets will fade and will be lost to the daylight. Do not attempt to look at the planets after the Sun has risen above the horizon. If the clouds play a spoilsport, don’t worry. You can try seeing the planets in the next few days. The angular separation, however, will be the least on March 5.
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