STATEN ISLAND, NY – An exciting celestial event dubbed “the Christmas Star” will shine in the night sky just before the Christmas holidays – the time when Jupiter and Saturn appear up close in a rare event called “La great conjunction 2020. “
The event marks the first time that the two planets will appear so close in 800 years.
“Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare due to the closeness of the planets to each other,” the astronomer said. Rice University. Patrick Hartigan in a press release. “One would have to go back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.”
Jupiter generally appears bright and is one of the best nocturnal objects, but has recently stood out more than usual due to the presence of bright Saturn in the east near Jupiter, according to Space.com. The two gas giants of the solar system are moving closer to each other in the sky since the summer.
When the two planets are in conjunction – that is, when they have the same right ascension or celestial longitude – this is called the “great conjunction”. This is because unlike conjunctions with other bright planets, these two do not come together often, Espace.com reports.
This conjunction is scheduled for December 21, the same day as the winter solstice. Since the planets are so close to each other near Christmas, she has been nicknamed “the Christmas Star”.
Most of the time, when Jupiter passes Saturn, the planets are more than one degree apart, according to Espace.com. But on Monday, December 21, they will be separated by about a tenth of a degree.
This means that if you look through a telescope, you will be able to see Saturn and Jupiter simultaneously in the same field of view. The planets will gradually get closer during the months of November and December. This week, the planets are only 5.1 degrees apart.
“On the evening of the closest approach to December 21, they will look like a double planet, separated by only 1 / 5th the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan said. “For most viewers, each planet and several of their larger moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”
A conjunction like this will not happen again for 60 years. The next close conjunction of the two planets is expected to take place on March 15, 2080.
So how can you see the two planets?
Although the two planets appear close, they are actually hundreds of millions of kilometers apart, according to Nasa. But the space agency said it would still be a startling sight, “but you’ll have to watch quickly because the two planets will set shortly after sunset.”
Look over the western horizon after sunset for these bright and near planets. A clear view of the gas giants will help, NASA said. It will be observable anywhere on Earth, according to Hartigan – weather permitting.
The best time to see the planets is in the first hour after sunset.
“The farther north a viewer is, the less time they will have to see the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon,” Hartigan said.
According to Forbes, you have to look southwest to find Jupiter because it shines at magnitude -2.2 and is easy to spot. The Saturn dimmer will be to the left of Jupiter, or further east, and is more difficult to spot.
There’s an easy way to make sure you’re looking at Saturn: stretch out your arm, hold your middle three together, and place your right-most finger on Jupiter. At the other end will be Saturn, according to Forbes.