Science

A conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury can be seen in the nighttime sky


Skywatchers have something to look for tonight, assuming you have clear weather and can see the sky. The two largest planets in the solar system, Saturn and Jupiter, will be nearby in the nighttime sky along with Mercury. When planets appear to be close to each other in the sky, it’s called a conjunction.

The conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury was at its peak last night, but the three planets are still in close proximity and will only appear a little further apart to skywatchers tonight. Mercury will join Saturn and Jupiter just above the Western to southwestern horizon. The trio will be viewable with the naked eye just after sunset for the next several days.

The trio will be viewable within an area spanning about 2.3 degrees across, which is about the width of the pinky and ring finger and held away from the body at arm’s length. Mercury will be the lowest of the three in the sky, with Jupiter being the brightest and Saturn the dimmest.

Skywatchers with a basic set of binoculars will get a better view, and even the cheapest backyard telescope will help see the planets more closely. A cheap backyard telescope may allow amateur astronomers to see some of the larger moons of Jupiter. While the planets were at their closest Saturday night, they will continue to be close for several days.

Saturn and Jupiter were the closest they’ve been a long time in December during the Great Conjunction. 2021 will be a good year for skywatchers with plenty to look forward to in the nighttime sky during a year we all hope will be better than 2020.

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