As winter sets in and planets align, Google has decided to commemorate these events with a fun Google Doodle for this year's wintertime and "The Great Conjunction."
To celebrate these events, the iconic Google logo has been snowcapped against a dark, star-filled background. Furthermore, the double O's in the logo has been replaced with Jupiter (complete with the Great Red Spot) and the ringed Saturn. A small Earth, wearing a nightcap, can be seen jumping in excitement between the two giant planets.
In its animation, Saturn moves to the lower right of the screen, stopping briefly near Jupiter. It then removes its rings and gives a high-five to its neighboring giant, and continues on its way. Google also shared early drafts of the Doodle on its website, with varying animations for the planets.
In its Google Doodle archive webpage, Google credits NASA as a collaborator in the Doodle. It also explains: "As Earth's Northern Hemisphere hunkers down for winter and its longest night of the year, it seems Jupiter and Saturn have decided to put on quite an unusual show for the world to see!"
The "Christmas Star": Gas Giants Becoming Like Double Planets
After almost 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn have moved in close proximity to each other. This makes them appear like double planets and is expected to become a prominently visible object in the night sky. Additionally, the day of this conjunction, December 21, happens to coincide with the Winter Solstice. This is the first event of its kind since the turn of the millennium, and the nearest instance since 1623 - a little after Galileo Galilei made the first telescope in 1609.
Google explains that based on the planets' orbits, they will see the planets cross within a tenth of a degree from each other from an Earth-based vantage point. In perspective, it is less than the width of our full moon. However, in reality, the two planets will still be 450 million years apart during this great conjunction.
This phenomenon is expected to be observable anywhere on Earth with a bright sky, with parts of the northern hemisphere getting a view of the conjunction from its western sky - around an hour after sunset. The nearest point of the conjunction is on the 21st, with the following evenings for the week also bearing witness to the event.
How to Watch the Great Conjunction
Google also shared steps for people "interested in watching the "Great Conjunction" on the longest night of the year." The first is to find a spot with an "unobstructed view of the sky," like parks or open fields. Next, Jupiter is set to make an appearance about an hour after sunset, easily visible across the southwestern sky. A fainter body that glows on Jupiter's upper left corner is Saturn, with the two planets changing positions in the following days.
While the phenomenon can be viewed with the naked eye, the use of telescopes and binoculars are also recommended for a closer view of both Jupiter and Saturn.
Check out more news and information on The Great Conjunction Science Times.