Look up into the night sky on this year’s winter solstice and you may see something rare. On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer to each other than they have been in eight centuries.
The alignments between the planets, known as ‘conjunction’, are “quite rare,” an astronomer at Rice University. Patrick Hartigan explained in a statement, “But this conjunction is exceptionally rare due to the proximity of the planets to each other.”
The last time these gas giants appeared this close, with a visible separation of just 0.1 degrees, was in the Middle Ages – before dawn on March 4, 1226.
Of course, the appearance of the ‘Christmas Star’ or ‘Star of Bethlehem’, so named because the closeness of the planets creates a bright point of light, is a phenomenon that is only observed from Earth. In reality, Jupiter and Saturn are millions of miles apart.
Where to see the ‘Christmas Star’
Saturn and Jupiter have been steadily closing in on each other since the summer of 2020.
It’s worth taking the time to search for these planets over the next few nights. “You can see [the planets] motion which is cool, because you’re actually looking at planets in orbit, “Hartigan said. USA Today, and being attentive to the union of the couple before the night of the solstice will make identifying them a little easier on the 21st.
Although it is visible around the world, the best place to see the conjunction is near the equator, between sunset and just after dark, when the sky is dark enough for a weaker Saturn to appear, but when it is not so late as the planets have moved down the horizon in the evening.
Looking down on the western horizon, at the winter solstice the two planets will appear to be separated by less than a fifth of the diameter of a full moon.
If you can access a telescope, several of the planets’ largest moons will also be visible in the same field of view that night.
If it’s cloudy, where are you on December 21? Jupiter and Saturday will continue to appear closer to each other during the week surrounding the solstice. What if you miss the phenomenon completely? It is always March 15, 2080. That is the time when the next close conjunction of the planets is expected to occur.
SHARE the out-of-this-world news with friends on social media …