The evening sky over the Northern Hemisphere treated stargazers to a once-in-a-lifetime illusion on Monday as the solar system’s two biggest planets appeared to meet in a celestial alignment that astronomers call the “Great Conjunction.”

The rare spectacle resulted from a near convergence of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn that happened to coincide with Monday’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. For those able to observe the alignment in clear skies, the two frozen-gas spheres appeared closer and more vibrant – almost as a single point of light – than at any time in 800 years.

Jupiter – the brighter and larger of the pair – has been gradually nearing Saturn in the sky for weeks as the two planets proceed around the sun, each in its own lane of an enormous celestial racetrack, said Henry Throop, an astronomer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington.

“From our vantage point, well be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on Dec. 21, Throop said in a statement last week.

This post first appeared on Thesun.co.uk

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