The Moon Visits Bright Gas Giants This Week

~3 min

This week, the thin waxing crescent Moon is visiting the Solar System's two largest planets — Jupiter and Saturn. In our article, you'll learn how and where to see the beautiful dance of our natural satellite and the brilliant gas giants in the sky above you.

The spectacular gathering of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn

The Moon and Jupiter conjunction will take place on December 16, 2020, at 23:30 EST (or on December 17, 2020, at 04:30 GMT). The 3-days-old Moon will pass 2°55' to the south of the largest planet of the Solar System. The Moon will shine at a magnitude of -10.0, while the brilliant gas giant will be at a magnitude of -2.0. You'll find the bright duo among the stars of the constellation Sagittarius.

Shortly after that, our natural satellite will get closer to another gas giant — golden Saturn. Their conjunction will occur on December 17 at 00:20 EST (05:20 GMT). The Moon and Saturn will meet up in the constellation Capricornus, shining at a magnitude of -10.1 and 0.5, respectively.

Being larger and brighter than Saturn, Jupiter outshines this ringed planet by about 11 times. Let Jupiter be your guide — find this brilliant gas giant first, and then you'll easily spot a golden star shining nearby — it will be Saturn. The separation between Jupiter and Saturn decreases week by week. Jupiter will catch up with the ringed planet, and they will look like a single brilliant star on December 21. You can see the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn with the unaided eye or enjoy their view using binoculars, but these celestial bodies will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope.

The stargazing guide Star Walk 2 will help you to locate the Moon and the gas giants in the sky above you and determine the best viewing time for your location. Tap on the camera icon in the upper right corner of your screen to activate the AR mode and enjoy the map of celestial objects overlaid on the image from your device's camera.

Don’t forget that the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (which takes place once in 20 years) will occur in just a few days — on December 21, 2020 — and will be the closest conjunction of the gas giants since July 16, 1623! So turn on the notifications in the Star Walk 2 app, follow our news and you won’t miss this memorable astronomical event.

Enjoy the soft glow of earthshine

While the Moon is dancing with Jupiter and Saturn in the early evening, enjoy earthshine — a pale glow that lights up the Moon's dark part. This phenomenon occurs when sunlight reflects off the Earth's surface and illuminates the lunar disk's unlit part. The other names of earthshine are “the ashen glow” and “the Da Vinci glow” as Leonardo da Vinci was the first to explain this interesting phenomenon.

Observe earthshine on the days surrounding the New Moon — the last one occurred on December 14 at 11:17 EST (16:17 GMT). Look at the slender crescent Moon right after sunset or before sunrise and you'll see the subtle glow on the darkened part of the lunar disk. Consult the astronomical app Star Walk 2 to determine the exact rise and set time of the Sun and the Moon by tapping on the “Sky Live” option.

Happy observation!