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article imageWinter Solstice and the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

By Karen Graham     Dec 21, 2020 in Science
The shortest day in what feels like the longest year has arrived. Monday is the Winter Solstice. Sky gazers will have a special treat tonight - The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Viewers will see two bright "stars" left of where the sun sets.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year when the sun appears at its most southerly position, directly overhead at the faraway Tropic of Capricorn.
And in the Southern Hemisphere, the opposite is happening - meaning that the Winter Solstice in places like Australia, South Africa, and Argentina are seeing the longest day of the year, marking the beginning of their summer.
And the closer someone lives to the North Pole, the shorter the day will be. In Nome, Alaska, today will only have about 3 hours and 54 minutes of sunshine.
Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice.
Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice.
Mark Grant (CC BY 2.5)
We like to be precise, so the exact time of the 2020 winter solstice will be 10:02 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Monday. Here are a few local times when the solstice will occur around the world:
-- Tokyo: 7:02 p.m. Monday
-- Bangkok: 5:02 p.m. Monday
-- Dubai: 2:02 p.m. Monday
-- Rome: 11:02 a.m. Monday
-- Casablanca, Morocco: 10:02 a.m. Monday (same as UTC)
-- Boston: 5:02 a.m. Monday
-- Vancouver: 2:02 a.m. Monday
-- Honolulu: 12:02 a.m. Monday
Earth has seasons because our world is tilted on its axis with respect to our orbit around the sun.
Earth has seasons because our world is tilted on its axis with respect to our orbit around the sun.
What causes the winter solstice to even happen?
According to Miami University associate professor of astronomy and physics Stephen Alexander, the Winter Solstice is all about the Earth's tilt and not how far it is from the sun. Professor Alexander explains that "the earth is tilted 23.5 degrees and therefore receives a different amount of direct sunlight at different points as it orbits the sun."
When the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, we receive less direct sunlight and a shorter sun arc, creating winter. This tilt of the Earth's rotational axis is what gives us our seasons. You might wonder why the Earth is tilted, but not to worry. The tilt occurred back when the solar system was still forming, scientists believe the Earth was subject to violent collisions that caused the axis to tilt.
A Once-in-a-lifetime event - The Great Conjunction
Tonight, two giant gas planets, Jupiter, the brighter of the two, and Saturn, will appear in the night sky, and to the naked eye, they appear to be right next to each other, even though they are separated by hundreds of millions of miles in the solar system.
The two planets have been moving closer to each other for the last two weeks, and according to NASA, tonight is the culmination of that wonderfully vibrant conjunction.
The last time these two planets were this close, and visible, was 1226. Then in 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope to the night sky, and discovered the four moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In that same year, Galileo also discovered a strange oval surrounding Saturn, which later observations determined to be its rings.
But just thirteen years later, in 1623, the two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, traveled together across the sky. Jupiter caught up to and passed Saturn, in an astronomical event known as a “Great Conjunction.
This year's great conjunction will also be the most easily visible close conjunction since 1226 (as the previous close conjunctions in 1563 and 1623 were closer to the Sun and so harder to see).
More about Winter solstice, great conjunction, shortest day, jupiter ans Xaturn, pagan traditions
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