• Justine I.

2021 Guide to Upcoming Planetary Conjunctions

Look up to the stars! After reading this guide, of course


black silhouette of a spiny piny tree against the deep blue night sky, with two bright planets shining brightly overhead

Great Conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn, December 2020 - Photo Credit: M.B. Louis


Whether you’re an avid sky watcher or or just head out to catch the occasional meteor shower, there is a good chance you heard about last year's especially vivid “Christmas Star”, Jupiter and Saturn’s Great Conjunction on December 21st. The event made national news as the two planets haven’t been this close since the year 1623. What few people know is that conjunctions are fairly common between other planets and astronomical objects. They may not all be worthy of the title of “Great”, but these events are quite interesting regardless. You’ll be able to see two or more of these stunning astronomical objects — most of which are not usually visible to the naked eye — and their orbits will be so close together that they’ll appear within the same lens of a telescope! Want to know more? Pathloom’s Official Guide to Planet Conjunctions is here for everything you need to know about these astronomical wonders!


Throughout January, we experienced seven conjunctions, including a rare triple conjunction of Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn on January 10th. We witnessed six more in February, with so many more to come throughout the rest of 2021. Scroll down to the bottom of this page (or click here) for a list of conjunctions occurring throughout the remainder of the 2021 Calendar Year.


a timelapse photo of the starscape above the dark rocky craggy outlines of Joshua Tree National Park

Starry Starry Timelapse: Joshua Tree National Park, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



What are Planetary Conjunctions?


Astronomical Conjunctions occur when two astronomical objects - such as planets, stars, moons, or the sun - align in the sky, creating an illusion that they are close together when in reality they are thousands of miles apart. The objects are bright, so you’ll be able to see them with the naked eye, but with binoculars or a telescope, you can view amazing details - such as the rings of Saturn, or the moons surrounding these planets!


miles of deep blue starry night sky over Rocky Mountain National Park, as seen from Moraine Park Campground

Moraine Campground: Rocky Mountain National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



How to View Planetary Conjunctions


Viewing conjunctions is easy, but it does require a bit of planning. First, know when to arrive at your location. These events often occur all day but they’re typically most visible about 45 minutes after sunset. Be aware of the sun’s afterglow, however, which may wash out the view. If this happens, you may have to wait a little longer to see anything.


Also, be mindful of the placement of the objects in the sky. It’d be disappointing to go out of your way to see an astronomical wonder that is hidden behind trees from your viewpoint because it’s lower in the sky than you expected! The ideal viewing locations have a horizon that is as clear as possible, such as open fields and beaches. If these flat areas aren’t available to you, look for high vantage points like balconies, hills, or anywhere else that can provide an elevated view of the horizon. When you get there, apps such as Star Walk 2 are a great help to ensure that you’re looking in the right direction. This app maps out the entire sky so you can view the locations of planets, constellations, and moons in real time, directly through your phone.


brightly illuminated orange and blue tents set up under the pitch black darkness of the night sky overhead. Photo Credit Scott Carnahan

If you live in an urban area, you’re going to want to find somewhere with as little light pollution as possible. Luckily, you won’t have to go as far as you’d necessarily think. The suburbs just outside your city often work well enough, depending on the brightness of the planets. I was able to see the Great Conjunction last December just while driving around in my suburban town! Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous, use the conjunction as an excuse to go camping, or take a night hike into the wilderness for optimal viewing conditions.


The one factor you won’t be able to plan for, but arguably the most important, is the presence of a clear sky. Planets are seen best without overcast clouding your experience so try to avoid nights that will definitely be rainy or foggy. Conjunctions also vary in brightness so they might not as easily visible at first - but don’t lose hope! Many of these events last for several days, so you may be able to try again the following day when viewing conditions have improved. Although rare, some conjunctions are bright enough to be visible in the daytime!


a brilliant black night sky illuminated with pinpoints of starry light, over the wooded ravine of Kern Canyon in southern California

Kern Canyon, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



Photographing Planetary Conjunctions


If you like to take pictures, you may want to try your hand at photographing the conjunctions you see. Astronomical objects photograph best in dark skies with little light pollution surrounding it, but they can sometimes come through in front of colorful sunsets. Staying out long enough to capture your planets in both sunset and night sky settings can make for some very interesting shots! If you do go with the dark sky option but want your planets to come off as brighter, see if your phone has a “night mode”. This will stabilize long exposure and make your darks look darker, providing a better contrast to the stars and planets . If using a DSLR camera, you can stabilize this exposure manually by using a tripod to get a sharper image. You can also make your image sharper by utilizing the Manual Focus mode. Finally, experiment with different lenses. A wide lens will allow you to capture more of the foreground and scenery of your viewing location, while a telephoto lens will give you a clearer, zoomed in shot. Capturing these events can be a challenging, but extremely rewarding experience!


bright white stars against a black night sky can be seen between giant Sequoias looming overhead in Sequoia National Forest, California

Sequoia National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



Upcoming Planetary Conjunctions in 2021


April

  • April 22th: Venus and Uranus

  • April 24th: Uranus and Mercury

  • April 25th: Venus and Mercury


May

  • May 2nd: Mars and Mu Geminorum (Giant star in Gemini Constellation)

  • May 8th: Mars and Gamma Geminorum (Star in Gemini Constellation)

  • May 9th: Mercury and Aldebaran

  • May 16th: Venus and Aldebaran

  • May 28th: Venus and Mercury

  • May 31st: Mars and Pollux (Orange Giant Star in Gemini Constellation)


June

  • June 6th: Venus and Mu Geminorum

  • June 9th: Venus and Gamma Geminorum

  • June 21st: Venus and Pollux

  • June 22nd: Mercury and Aldebaran


July:

  • July 13th: Venus and Mars

  • July 21st: Venus and Regulus (Star in Leo Constellation)

  • July 24th: Mercury and Pollux

  • July 29th: Mars and Regulus