There’s a big astronomical event coming up on the 21st of December, and now is the time to start watching it take shape.
Once every twenty years Jupiter and Saturn approach each other in a “Great Conjunction,” coming so close together in the sky that they almost seem to touch. (This is a function of our viewing position on earth, of course; in space, Jupiter and Saturn are still and always very far apart.) The last Great Conjunction was in the year 2000. The next one is late next month.
You should start watching the two great planets this month, though, so you and your young astronomers will appreciate their increasing proximity over the coming weeks. Jupiter is the first “star” you can see at sunset now, shining brightly to the south. (Reddish Mars is also very bright at the moment, but it’s more to the east and then later directly overhead.) Once you spot Jupiter, look just a little to its left to see dimmer Saturn.
Day by day for the next four weeks, Jupiter and Saturn will approach each other more and more closely, until by late December they’ll almost seem to touch. The timeanddate.com website has a helpful rundown on everything you need to know about the event:
At their closest approach, Jupiter and Saturn will be only a tenth of a degree apart. (For comparison, the diameter of the full moon is about five tenths of a degree.) This will in fact be the closest great conjunction since 1623 — almost 400 years.
You can skip this one if you want to, but you’ll have to wait until November 2040 to see a Great Conjunction again. 😊
What other celestial sights and astronomical alignments have you been examining in your homeschool this Cygnus Term? 🔭
❡ Choose something like a star: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Your recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas (riverhouses.org/books) both contain charts of the constellations that will show you the all the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌌
❡ Star bright: If you’d like some light and easy homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our annual River Houses Star Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us month by month as we make twelve heavenly friends-for-life over the course of the year. 🌟
❡ Watchers of the skies: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our free River Houses mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞