2023 Guide to Planetary Conjunctions
Look up to the stars! After reading this guide, of course
Great Conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn, December 2020 - Photo Credit: M.B. Louis
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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 2020's especially vivid “Christmas Star”, the Jupiter and Saturn’s Great Conjunction on December 21st. The event made national news as the two planets hadn't been this visible from Earth since the year 1623. What few people know is that planetary 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!
Editor's note, this article is an update to our Guide to Planetary Conjunctions from previous years, with new information for 2023. The article was originally written by Pathloom intern Justine Imburgio, and she included so much useful information that we wanted to keep everything as intact as possible for this updated edition. Read on for information about what Planetary Conjunctions are, and how best to view and/or photograph them.
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!
Moraine Campground: Rocky Mountain National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
How to View Planetary Conjunctions
Viewing planetary 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 and night, 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 elevation 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.
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 the suburbs outside Philadelphia! 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. Planetary 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 even bright enough to be visible in the daytime!
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 planetary 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 further sharpen your image 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!
Sequoia National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Upcoming Planetary Conjunctions in 2023
February 15th: Venus and Neptune
March 2nd: Mercury and Saturn
March 2nd: Venus and Jupiter
March 30th: Venus and Uranus
June 3rd: Mercury and Uranus
July 26th: Venus and Mercury
These are the conjuctions in 2023 between two planets - for a list of conjunctions between a planet and our moon, click here!
Do you have any great night sky photography you'd like to share with us? Send a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with us on Social Media for a chance to be featured in an upcoming post!
Pathloom Intern Justine Imburgio majors in Secondary Education and English at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Look for more of Justine's writing in the Pathloom blog!
Get exclusive stories, trail reports, National Park alternatives, recipes, and more delivered directly to your inbox from our growing team of experienced thru hikers, former National Park employees, and fellow adventure lovers.
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