With all the bad news going on this year there’s at least a bright star of hope to end 2020.
You may have heard that on December 21st (winter solstice) Jupiter and Saturn will be the closest they have ever been seen together since 1226 AD.
This occurrence, also know by astronomers as the “great conjunction,” is rumored to be like the biblical Christmas star that appeared in the Eastern sky of Bethlehem. This is in reference to the triple conjunction in 7 BC or conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 3 BC.
I’m not here to speculate, but that also means that this great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter has never before been photographed.
How to see the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter?
The alignment of Saturn and Jupiter will appear on December 21, 2020 just after sunset. It will be in the southwest sky near the milky way and low near the horizon.
To be able to see the great conjunction you will need to be on high ground as the planets will be close to the horizon. This may include finding a vantage point on a mountain, rooftop, parking garage, open field, or ocean.
Bring binoculars or a telescope for the best viewing experience.
If there are any mountains near the horizon you may not be able to see it.
Where I live in central California, the star will appear right after sunset around blue hour at 5:13pm. It will continue to drop lower to the horizon until it disappears around 6:50pm
To see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, you can download free star gazing apps such as sky view or star tracker to locate the planets.
Download google earth on your Mac or PC to find a location that allows you to see the stars near the horizon.
You can also download free software such as Stellarium to see the time the conjunction will begin and end in your area.
How to photograph the Great Conjunction?
Unless you’re using a zoom lens don’t just aim the camera at the sky. Use a tree, barn, or interesting foreground subject to compose the shot. This will give more depth and perspective to your image.
If you have an iPhone 11 or newer or a google pixel phone from the last 3 years, you can probably get a good image of the Conjunction handheld or with a tripod.
If you have an older smartphone you will need an app to change your shutter speed and iso. Most older phones can probably get an image of the night sky with a shutter speed of 15-18 seconds on a tripod with some star trailing.
Mirrorless or DSLR cameras
Any lens with a f4 aperture or larger will allow you to get a shot of the night sky. Ideally you want a lens with an aperture of f2.8 or faster to give you an image with less noise.
Set your iso above 1600 and use the 500 rule to calculate your shutter speed. Try to keep your shutter speed under 16 seconds to avoid star trails. If you want to avoid star trails and want more pin point stars use the NPF rule to calculate shutter speed by downloading the photopills app.
Set your white balance to auto and image capture set to uncompressed RAW with noise reduction off.
You may want to bracket your exposure if you’re using a telescope or telephoto lens.
With all the dark days of 2020, December 21st, will be the darkest, but will also bring a reminder of hope and light as we prepare for Christmas and the new year.
I wish the best to all of you who might have the chance to catch such a unique and inspiring moment. Merry Christmas!