During these troubling times, it’s so nice to be able to count on natural wonders. Stargazing and amateur astronomy certainly fit that bill, especially now with Jupiter and Saturn in the Rochester evening sky.

These two giants of our solar system are really putting on a great show. From now until the end of the year, they will be very close together in the sky. When you see them in the early evening southeast sky toward the end of evening twilight, Jupiter is the brighter of the two, rising ahead of Saturn.

Right now, Jupiter and Saturn are less than 10 degrees apart, about the width of your fist held at arm’s length. This is the closest they’ve been to each other in the sky in 20 years. During the autumn months, Jupiter and Saturn will draw even closer to each other. On Dec. 21, the start of winter, they’ll be practically “touching” each other, only a 10th of a degree apart. It will be the closest they’ve been since 1623!

Even though Jupiter and Saturn appear to be bosom buddies this month, they’re nowhere near each other physically. They just happen to be in the same general line of sight from our view on Earth. In reality, they’re separated by 450 million miles.

Both planets have also reached their closest approach to Earth for 2020. On July 14, Jupiter reached its closest point, about 386 million miles away. Saturn was less than 837 million miles from our backyards on July 20. For sure, these are still tremendous distances, but since these planets are so gargantuan, they’re still very bright in our night skies no matter how far or close they are from Earth.

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Also adding to the Jupiter and Saturn show is that they’re both in what’s known astronomically as "opposition." Not only does this mean that both planets are at their minimum distance from Earth, but both are also in the opposite direction in the sky from the sun. That’s good news for us, because it means they’ll be available for viewing through the night, rising around sunset and setting around sunrise.

Jupiter and Saturn are so close together in the sky that in some binoculars, you might be able to get both planets in the same field of view. With just binoculars, you’ll be able to at least partially resolve the disk of Jupiter, and be able to see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons resembling tiny stars on opposite sides of the planet.

Looking from night to night, you’ll see the moons are always in different arrangements as they orbit Jupiter in periods of two to 17 days. There are also times you can’t see all four because one or more of them might either be behind Jupiter or camouflaged in front of the Jovian giant.

Through even a small telescope, you’ll be blown away by both Jupiter and Saturn, but as they say, timing is everything. It’s best to wait until 11 p.m. or later to give them a chance to get high enough in the sky so your view won’t be as affected by the blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere.

The lower any celestial object is in the sky, the more obscured it will be by a thicker layer of Earth’s atmosphere near the horizon. Sadly, neither planet will rise all that high in the sky this year, making for less-than-ideal viewing, but they’re still pretty special to see with a telescope.

Despite their low arc across the sky, you can still see Jupiter's cloud bands across its 88,000-mile diameter with most telescopes. You may even be able to see the great red spot, depending on which direction Jupiter is facing in its 10-hour rotation.

Also, with just a small telescope, you should be able to clearly see Saturn’s ring system and even some of its moons. When you’re observing either Jupiter or Saturn, it’s best to take long, continuous looks through your scope so your eye can get used to the light level inside the eyepiece of your scope. That will help you see more detail. Longer looks will also give you a chance to catch windows of thinner and less turbulent air in Earth’s atmosphere.

As an encore to the Jupiter and Saturn show, Mars is rising a little behind Jupiter and Saturn, with its very distinct reddish hue. As summer rolls into autumn, Mars will be rising earlier and earlier, as well as drawing closer and closer to Earth. In October, Mars will be just less than 39 million miles away, the closest the red planet will be to the Earth until 2035.

If you ever wanted to purchase a telescope, now would be a great time to do it!

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications. Send questions to mikewlynch@comcast.net.

The Rochester Astronomy Club welcomes new members and puts on public star parties. Their website is rochesterskies.org.