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Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn — Another Chance!

Yesterday, the Gods of the Clouds denied our view of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, but tonight, we may or may not get a second chance! The usual, dueling weather forecasts of Maine say that the clouds will clear, possibly soon enough to see the conjunction before it sets at 6:20pm (but, remember, even before then it will be hiding below your treetops, and be too low for the atmosphere to allow the best view). Even if it is partially cloudy, the veil may part long enough to spot our quarry, so keep an eye on the sky.

Jupiter and Saturn are so bright that total darkness is not necessary to see them. Just as soon as even partial darkness falls, look in the southwestern sky. The brightest object will be Jupiter. Just to its right, the next brightest object will be Saturn. As would have been true had the clouds not fought us last night, this unusual view will be beautiful to the naked eye, and it will fit easily into the field of view of any binocular, or even into the eyepiece of a telescope. That’s what is so cool about conjunctions: At no other time can two planets be seen so close together, or in such detail in a single view of a telescope!

If you happen to see this email too late for tonight, try again on any clear night over the next few days, or maybe even into the rest of this week. Conjunctions occur in slow motion. The exact, theoretical conjunction occurred in a single moment yesterday, but the view is much the same over a more forgiving period.

The view we missed last night was unusual, in that it was the closest conjunction for hundreds of years into both the past and future. Jupiter and Saturn passed within about half the apparent distance between Alcor and Mizar, the famous pair in the Big Dipper, used in ancient days as a test of eyesight for Roman soldiers. But, we’re accustomed to having astronomy ruled by the clouds, and tonight’s view of the near-conjunction is as least as good as any other conjunction of our lifetimes will be, so be sure to check for passing clouds, in case the conjunction may be visible!

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