They are the two biggest planets in our solar system. On December 21, 2020, Jupiter will join Saturn. They do this dance every twenty years in what is called a Great Conjunction (conjunction means a coming together and “great” because they’re the biggest planets. Their cycle is the longest of the original planets, prior to the discoveries made possible by the invention of telescopes. So is this a big deal? In a word, YES!
There are two ways in which this conjunction is extraordinary. The first has to do with proximity. In their travel, planets go around the zodiac as well as up and down within a certain band-with. Not every time they reach the same point on the orbital racetrack are they at an equivalent vertical position, said to be “parallel.” Riding at the same elevation in the sky, they practically merge, appearing like one big star to the unaided eye. With magnification, Saturn will look like it is sitting atop Jupiter. That definitely does not happen every time the quicker giant planet overtakes its ringed neighbor. When I looked across more than eight centuries, from 1600 to 2420, there were only two other instances of Jupiter and Saturn appearing as one bright object, in 1623 and 2417. There were a half a dozen other times when they’re almost as close but are distinct: a trio of conjunctions in 1682-83, 1961, 2080 and 2140. Had you been alive in 1623, you probably could not have seen their merging because they were so close to the Sun they would be obscured by the Sun’s brilliance. If you’re young enough, you may live until 2080 and be able to check how close they are then (on March 14) – they wont be quite as close as this year. This is definitely the best viewing until 400 years from now. Maybe in a future incarnation you can see this very rare phenomenon again!
This article from EarthSky.org has a great explanation and helpful illustrations.
If you haven’t seen Jupiter and Saturn, you’re missing something!
Though they travel near one another in the zodiac for several months, more often than not, when Jupiter passes Saturn in their dual-decade dance, it happens just one time. Rarely, they join in a series of three instances, spaced months apart. You might think this is not so rare if you only examined the past hundred years, when there were two triplets, in 1940-41 and 1980-81. In the same period mentioned above, there were only three other triplets, in 1682-83, 2238-39 and 2279. This conjunction is not a triple but it’s special in another way, having to do with the element of the sign where it occurs.
Jupiter-Saturn meetings strike a drumbeat for cultural changes and developments, and this one holds the promise for a whole new era. The 2020 meet-up heralds the end of almost two centuries dominated by Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions in signs of the Earth element and ushers in a period of over a century when Jupiter’s and Saturn’s paths cross in Air signs. This is part of a long-term cycling through the four elements, usually with seven pairings in an element before migrating to the next.
The Earth element is associated with material objects, practical concerns, and wealth and tangible assets. The Earth era premiered with a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in 1802, but it was followed by a throwback to the prior era with a conjunction in the Fire element in 1821. The long stretch of Earth conjunctions began in 1841. Soon afterward, transportation progressed from steamships to railroads, then trucks and automobiles, followed by airplanes and space travel. Communication technology developed beyond books, letters and newspapers to telegraphs, telephones and satellites. In the 20-year period from the first conjunction in an Air sign in 1980 to 2000, the last conjunction in an Earth sign, we added personal computers, the internet, cell phones and the Apple watch, which was only dreamed about in 1946 in the cartoon strip Dick Tracy. The growth of banks and financial institutions and the amassing of great personal or family fortunes accompanied these other advancements. And in the process, the earth itself has been abused and trashed. And in the last Earth period from 2000 to 2020, income disparity and the wealth gap between the “top one percent” and everyone else has skyrocketed.
We’ve now moved past the Industrial Revolution and Robber Barons of the Earth period and we’re living in the Information Age. Communication and information are associated with the Air element, as are relationships. As with every element, there are three signs in Air. Gemini correlates with education, neighborhoods and community. Libra is about connections (who you know), cooperation and fairness. Aquarius is the sign of friendship, associations, humankind and humanitarianism. The long period of Air sign conjunctions will run from 2020 to 2159, with an extension for two more cycles from 2179 to 2218, after which the prominent element shifts to Water. Thus this 2020 conjunction is the turning point, and is known as a Great Mutation, a Great Conjunction that shifts to a different element. People will matter more than things.
For forty years, since my early years of studying astrology, I have been waiting for this time of Air sign Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions. Living through the period initiated by the 1980-81 conjunctions, I was upset that we weren’t making enough progress in equality and fairness, and that we weren’t following the example of the first Earth Day in 1970. Reagan was elected in 1980 and removed the solar panels Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House. Racial tensions have not calmed down. Women have not ascended to an equal status. I had and continue to have high hopes, although reality has not always lived up to the ideal. (Jupiter relates to optimism; Saturn to realism. There’s always a balancing act between them.) With the conjunction at the first degree of Aquarius, I thought this would be the true beginning of the Age of Aquarius, a time of “brotherhood.” Many people erroneously think the Age of Aquarius occurred in the hippie days of the late ‘60s when the associated song came out. Actually, it’s an astronomical phenomenon related to a cycle of more than 26,000 years, with periods of approximately 2,160 years assigned to each of the twelve zodiac constellations according to where the spring equinox occurs. (Here are two articles, one I wrote and one written by a colleague, describing the Age of Aquarius in more depth.)
I do think we’re headed toward more equality and harmony among the people of the world, but it won’t happen immediately. What I didn’t anticipate was the extreme fight a dying breed would put up. Power in the hands of (mostly) white (mostly) men won’t easily yield to the demographics of an increasingly multi-racial population. And the trend, worldwide, toward more authoritarianism caught me off-guard. Capricorn is the sign of authority and control and Pluto is the planet of big bucks and power (which go hand-in-hand in America even more so since the Citizens United decision in 2010). Pluto moved into Capricorn in 2008 in the midst of the subprime mortgage crisis and ensuing Great Recession. But that didn’t quell rising wealth inequality. And during the pandemic, the uber-rich have gotten even richer and the poor, poorer. Governments have clamped down on the populace, especially in places like Hong Kong and Chile, but we’ve seen civil rights violations by unidentified armed federal agents attacking protestors in this country, too.
The trio of Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto traveling together through most of 2020 brought international (Jupiter) virus and death (Pluto) as well as restrictions (Saturn) and widespread (Jupiter) economic (Pluto) hardship (Saturn). The concentration of these three powerhouse planets in one sign has been too much! Saturn and Pluto are usually very difficult while Jupiter normally has a reputation of being beneficial. As the biggest planet, it’s main function is to expand whatever it’s contacting. So it made the bad stuff worse. We’ll be happy this combination ends before the New Year and the three planets start to spread out by the end of January. Had the Great Conjunction been in the final degree of Capricorn, the ripple effects of this heavy energy would have continued over the next two decades. Instead, because Jupiter and Saturn beat their drum in Aquarius, we have a Great Mutation and the beginning of a New Age. And none too soon.
Think about this: Aquarius = Aqua (water) + r + i + us = the connecting force of water + R (plural of to be: we aRe), shifting from I (Individuals) to Us (Unity).