Park Packed for Planets

Jupiter and three of its moons on the left; Saturn on the right.

The park was packed at sunset like I’ve never seen it before. Every parking space on Marina Boulevard and Spinnaker Way was full. People even parked on the middle green of the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way; a first. All this desperation was not for the sunset. The sunset was cool, very nice, but not a gold medal. The crowd was here for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Did people believe the BS in some of the press that this was the “Christmas star”? I didn’t ask. (If anything, it was the Solstice star.) To add drama, a bank of clouds covered the southwestern sky, where the twin planets were expected. Was it all a waste of time? Then, as the sunset dimmed out, just to the north of those clouds, still kind of southwesterly, although more westerly than southerly, a bright star appeared. Since there was nothing else in the air besides airplanes, helicopters, and the moon to photograph, I focused on this. Whoa! What looked like one star to the naked (tired, old) eye turned out to be two in the long zoom lens. Two plus a string of blips around the brighter, bigger light on the left. The one on the right was smaller, looked a bit oval (rings?) and maybe a bit more reddish. I clicked away, not sure what I was seeing. When I got it home I sent a copy to Alan Gould, the astronomer who had led a Zoom talk on the Solstice at sunset. He replied in minutes: ” That’s definitely Jupiter with its moons on the left and Saturn on the right, oval shape.” Hurray!

This close an approach of these two giants hasn’t been seen since the year 1623, when Galileo Galilei was still alive. In that year, according to Wikipedia, just in the first six months:

And in July:

July 16 – The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, when they were only 5 arc minutes apart, the closest since 4 March 1226. This conjunction likely went unobserved, as the telescope had been invented only recently..

So in 1623 everybody missed it. So don’t worry if you missed it tonight. It will happen again in 2080, when it will be a seniors’ field trip for today’s millennials.

To add sonic vibrations to the event tonight, a gentleman had set up a unique gong on the kite lawn facing the sunset, and produced a variety of hums, hisses, whistles, and thunders on it. He was recording it and did not want to be disturbed, understandably, so I left my card and hope that he contacts me to talk about himself and his instrument. The next day he did contact me, and I learned that his name is Max Rosenblum, he got the gong from the Gong Shop in San Francisco, and built the wooden frame himself; he’s a woodworker and his day job is building furniture and finish carpentry. While waiting for the main event, I took some photos of the moon and the bridge and the City, all attached below.

Musician playing gong at sunset on Dec. 21 2020
Sunset Dec. 21 2020

Old tower of Oakland Bay Bridge
Part of downtown San Francisco
New tower of Oakland Bay Bridge

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One thought on “Park Packed for Planets

  • Nice collage of the ‘historical’ evening !

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