An essay about the 2020 winter solstice!
Winter solstice 2020 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 2:02 AM on Monday, December 21. That is our local Pacific Time which is 8 hours behind UTC.
So in UTC terms that is 10:02.
For some reason I have always regarded the Winter solstice as special, no doubt because in the Northern Hemisphere it is the time for the shortest day! It is the start of the new year!
Here is that essay published by The Conversation.
What you need to know about this year’s winter solstice and the great conjunction
December 18, 2020
By William TeetsActing Director and Astronomer, Dyer Observatory, Vanderbilt University
Editor’s note: Dr. William Teets is the director of Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory. In this interview, he explains what does and doesn’t happen during the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Another cosmic phenomenon is also going to occur on the same day called “the great conjunction,” where Saturn and Jupiter, both of which can be seen with the naked eye, will appear extremely close to one another.
What happens on the winter solstice?
The winter solstice this year happens on Dec. 21. This is when the Sun appears the lowest in the Northern Hemisphere sky and is at its farthest southern point over Earth – directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For folks living at 23.5 degrees south latitude, not only does this day mark their summer solstice, but they also see the Sun directly over them at local noon. After that, the Sun will start to creep back north again.
The sequence of images below shows the path of the Sun through the sky at different times of the year. You can see how the Sun is highest in the Northern Hemisphere sky in June, lowest in December, and halfway in between these positions in March and September during the equinoxes.
The winter solstice is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere but not the day with the latest sunrise and earliest sunset. How is that possible?
The winter solstice doesn’t coincide with the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset. Those actually occur about two weeks before and two weeks after the winter solstice. This is because we are changing our distance from the sun due to our elliptical, not circular, orbit, which changes the speed at which we orbit.
If you were to look at where the Sun is at exactly the same time of day over different days of the year, you would see that it’s not always in the same spot. Yes, the Sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter, but it also moves from side to side of the average noontime position, which also plays a role in when the Sun rises and sets.
One should also keep in mind that the seasons are due to the Earth’s axial tilt, not our distance from the Sun. Believe it or not, we are closest to the Sun in January.
What is ‘the great conjunction’?
Saturn and Jupiter have appeared fairly close together in our sky throughout the year. But on Dec. 21, Saturn and Jupiter will appear so close together that some folks may have a difficult time seeing them as two objects.
If you have a pair of binoculars, you’ll easily be able to spot both planets. In even a small telescope, you’d see both planets at the same time in the same field of view, which is really unheard of. That’s what makes this conjunction so rare. Jupiter and Saturn appear to meet up about every 20 years. Most of the time, however, they’re not nearly as close together as we’re going to see them on Monday, Dec. 21.
For a comparison, there was a great conjunction back in 2000, but the two planets were separated by about two full-Moon widths. This year, the orbits will bring them to where they appear to be about one-fifth of a full-Moon diameter.
We have been encouraging folks to go out and look at these planets using just their eyes between now and Dec. 21. You’ll actually be able to see how much they appear to move over the course of a single day.
The next time they will get this close together in our sky won’t be for another 60 years, so this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. In fact, the last time they got this close together was in the year 1623, but it was really difficult, if not impossible, to see them then because they appeared much closer to the Sun and set soon after it. Go back another 400 years to 1226 and this would have been the last time that we would have had a good view of this type of conjunction.
What advice would you give to people who want to see the great conjunction?
If weather permits at Dyer Observatory, we’ll be streaming a live view of the conjunction from one of the observatory’s telescopes, and I’ll be available to answer questions. Even if you don’t have a telescope or a pair of binoculars, definitely go out and check out this very rare alignment with your own eyes. Remember that they set soon after sunset, so be ready to view right at dusk!
From the introduction that was received by email:
I want to include another piece on the conjunction. It comes from the introduction to that item above: It’s been a tough year. To many of us, every day during the coronavirus pandemic has felt incredibly long. Perhaps it will come as a relief that Monday will be the shortest day of the year. December 21 will also bring a rare cosmic phenomenon. If the sky is clear over the next few nights, look out just over the southwest horizon. You may see Jupiter and Saturn coming together and then drifting apart in an event known as “the great conjunction.” Although this occurs once every two decades, the last time they came this close, and we Earthlings got such a clear view, was in 1226.
I also want to include a copy of an article on the website belonging to KRCC that talks of the Great Conjunction.
Why The Jupiter And Saturn Conjunction During The 2020 Winter Solstice Is Extra Special
By Mike Procell
December 18, 2020
A rare celestial event will help mark the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere on Monday, Dec. 21.
Jupiter and Saturn are currently appearing very close together from an earthly vantage point. These two gas giants are in conjunction, an occurrence that happens every 20 years or so.
This one though, is extra special.
“Really, really close conjunctions like this one are quite rare,” said Hal Bidlack with the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. “We haven’t been able to observe Jupiter and Saturn this close since the year 1226. And we won’t see them again this close for decades and decades to come.”
The two planets were last about this close together in the year 1623. But the pairing occurred while the planets were close to the sun from earth’s perspective, Bidlack said, and the sight was basically washed out in the sun’s glare.
In reality, Saturn and Jupiter are hundreds of millions of miles apart.
“On the 21st they will appear so close that if you held a dime on edge at arm’s length, that’s how close they would be together,” Bidlack said.
From Colorado Springs, sky gazers only need to look toward Cheyenne Mountain to catch a glimpse. Elsewhere in Colorado, Bidlack said folks can look to the southwestern skies, low near the horizon.
The pair sets around an hour and a half after the sun does, about 4:39 p.m. on Monday.
The planets will begin to separate when viewed from Earth, and will eventually disappear altogether from the night sky until reappearing in the morning sky in early 2021. See more skywatching tips from NASA.
If you have managed to stay on today’s post until near the end you would have seen the following: “We haven’t been able to observe Jupiter and Saturn this close since the year 1226. And we won’t see them again this close for decades and decades to come.”
Just about 800 years ago since this last happened.
If you can, go outside with a telescope or a pair of binoculars and watch the sight! That time of the sunset is 4:39 PM Pacific Time. I think that wherever you are in the world starting to watch as soon as it is dark would be a good idea.
For me the new year starts now!