An extremely rare night sky shooting opportunity is coming up on December 21st for photographers. There will be a meeting of the planets, called a conjunction, on the solstice this year. Jupiter and Saturn will appear to collide in a single point of bright light.
A Brief Timeline of the Jupiter/Saturn Conjunction
• Year 1226: Jupiter and Saturn were at a super-close observable conjunction.
• Year 1623: Jupiter and Saturn were at another super-close conjunction but it was not easily observable.
• Year 2000: Jupiter and Saturn were at a pretty-close conjunction. Do you remember it? Like in 1623, it was difficult to see.
• December, 2020: Shut the front door, Jupiter and Saturn will be at an amazing 0.1 degree conjunction!
• October, 2040: Your next chance to see a pretty-close conjunction.
• April, 2060: Oof, this next pretty-close conjunction is pretty far. Hope you’re healthy!
• March, 2080: Yay! Another super-close conjunction! But if you’ve penciled this in, you’re either immortal or a very prepared baby.
See the Jupiter/Saturn Conjunction Event All Month
Busy on the solstice? This phenomenon is actually observable right now starting right after sunset in the southwestern horizon (for those in the northern hemisphere) and will stay visible for about an hour, so you won’t even need to stay out late to get in on the action like one often does for meteor showers. Please note that the further north you are, the shorter your observation window is as the pair quickly sink below the horizon.
Jupiter is incredibly bright and Saturn just adds to that. They will look like a super double-planet on the 21st but it will still be neat to see (and shoot) them nearby each other on the other nights. Unlike stars, they will shine steadily so they should be fairly easy to pick out. See them through binoculars or a wide-field telescope. Even smaller-to-medium telescopes should be able to pluck out Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings but they will be easier to see the higher up in the sky they appear to be (Earth’s atmosphere down at the horizon can distort and blur your planetary scene).
Photographing Planets like Jupiter and Saturn
If you just want a cool landscape with these bright dots represented in the composition, that doesn’t take specialized gear. Just about any camera will accomplish this, thanks to the brightness of the planets and the fact that they are best visible just after sunset – so a great time to get some nice “twilightscapes”. Is that a thing? I’m coining it.
To get closer with more detail, you will need to spring for a telescope with a camera mount. Fortunately, we rent the Celestron NexStar 6SE so get your reservations in now and fire up your favorite planetarium app to plan your night. It’s possible to catch some detail, like Saturn’s rings, with super telephoto lenses but it is difficult (and expensive – think 600mm and above, which we also rent). For post-processing and stacking images, check out RegiStax which is designed specifically for astrophotographers.Tags: Astrophotography, Night Photography Last modified: December 2, 2020