TAMPA, Fla. - Skywatchers had a once-in-a-lifetime view Monday night at planets Jupiter and Saturn came closer to one another than they have in the last 400 years -- and another 400 to come, according to NASA.
Astronomers call this a great conjunction.
From our vantage point, the two gas giants appeared almost touching, despite being hundreds of millions of miles apart.
Courtesy Juan Gaviria
Jonathan Sabin, the president of the Local Group of Deep Sky Observers, was ready with his telescope.
"Tonight is the peak of the conjunction; this is as close as the two planets are going to be for the next 50 years or so, they’re about 1/10th of a degree apart," Sabin said.
The celestial event was easy to see with the naked eye not long after sunset. With binoculars or a telescope, the show was even better.
As the planets danced together in the southwest sky, Sabin narrated, "We’ve got one of Saturn’s moons readily visible and all four of the Galilean moons."
Great conjunctions actually happen about every 20 years, but the proximity of this one is what makes it rare.
"20 years ago when this happened it was close, but you’d have to move the scope a degree or two over to see Saturn when you were looking at Jupiter and vice versa," Sabin said. "This time they’re both right there in the same field of view which is really kinda staggering."
If you missed the great conjunction Monday night, Jupiter and Saturn will still look impressive over the next few nights as they start to creep apart.