The Wonders of our Universe: Let’s Discover Them Together!

After supper the other night, my wife and I, we were sitting outside by the campfire. The fire was blazing, the heat was welcome in the chilly November night. We were mellowed out. I pointed out the night time spectacle clearly visible above us: the moon, with the two planets Saturn and Jupiter clearly visible to the right of it.

Don’t miss this: Jupiter, Saturn to appear as one for first time since 1623 in December
Jupiter and Saturn will appear very close to each other through December. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

And a third, very bright planet, Mars was positioned higher in the sky far to the left of the moon. All of these were on the track the daytime sun follows across the sky, called the ecliptic.

Well, what can I say? Was she impressed by this cosmic view laid out before us? I’m guessing this astronomical spectacle did not score high on the romanticism scale!

But then something else happened! Suddenly I noticed a bright moving light to the west of Jupiter and Saturn, passing swiftly upwards and towards the east across the sky! It must be a satellite! It was the International Space Station moving across the night-time sky above us!

I quickly pointed this out to my wife, and she too caught sight of it. We followed its steady progress across the sky to the east. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the ISS disappeared behind our earth’s shadow and on into night time obscurity.

These last months of 2020 we are able to witness a number of notable night-time spectacles. First there has been the nearest approach of the planet Mars, which happens every two years. Then there is the Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which will happen on Dec. 21. That is when these two, the largest planets of our Solar System have their “Conjunction”. This Conjunction last happened many years ago, in 1623. That was 14 years before Galileo invented the telescope! We are able to witness a unique spectacle which is clearly visible evidence of the dynamics of our incredible solar system.

An image of the solar system showing the alignment of the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn for the Great Conjunction of 2020.
Jupiter meets Saturn every 20 years. Conjunctions of the two are around two-thirds of the way along their orbits from the previous events. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Jupiter meets Saturn about every 20 years. Conjunctions of the two are around two-thirds of the way along their orbits from the previous encounter. Credit: Pete Lawrence

https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/great-conjunction-jupiter-saturn/

Saturn and Jupiter appear to close in on each other up to the Great Conjunction on 21 December (apparent distance given in degrees and arcminutes). Credit: Pete Lawrence
Saturn and Jupiter appear to close in on each other as the Great Conjunction 2020 approaches on 21 December (apparent distance given in degrees and arcminutes). Credit: Pete Lawrence
A conjunction of the Moon, Venus, Mars and Spica, Azul, Argentina. Credit: Stocktrek Images/Luis Argerich/Getty
Conjunctions are a sight to behold. Here the Moon meets Venus, Mars and Spica in the night sky above Azul, Argentina. Credit: Stocktrek Images/Luis Argerich/Getty

All of these astronomical phenomena are totally a teachable moment! What a wonderful time to get the kids involved in the marvels of astronomy, the stories from early European scientific discovery and the basic physics of the solar system and the regular movement of the planets. You could even find a low-cost telescope to set up and view the rings of Saturn and moons of Jupiter which will all be at their most visible in the month of December 2020.

Published by Resources 4 Teachers & Parents

Resources 4 Teachers is an education website that provides material, activities, lesson plans, books and videos created by teachers for teachers, students and parents.

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