Star Crossed Planets: The incredibly rare “Christmas star” appears for the first time in 800 years

ATLANTA (CNN) – The two largest planets in our solar system are getting closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages, and it happens just in time for Christmas.

So, there are a few things to look forward to in the last month of 2020.

On the night of December 21, the winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn will appear so closely interconnected in our sky that they appear to be a double planet. This close approach It is called orchestration.

“The alignment between these two planets is rather rare, it occurs once every 20 years or so,” said Rice University astronomer and professor of physics and astronomy Patrick Hartigan. “But this conjunction is extremely rare because of how close the planets are to each other.” The current situation.

“You will have to return to pre-dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.”

If you’re a fan of the stars, you’ve probably noticed that Jupiter and Saturn have been approaching each other since summer. They are currently visible in the night sky, close to each other.

But between December 16 and 25, they will become more comfortable. Look for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset every evening during this time.

“On the evening of the closest approach, on December 21, it will look like a double planet separated by only 1/5 the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan said. “For most telescope viewers, every planet and many of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”

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Although these two planets may appear close, they are still hundreds of millions of miles away, according to NASA.

A view showing how the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will appear in a telescope directed towards the western horizon at 6 PM CST on December 21, 2020. Image adapted from drawings by the open-source planetarium software, Stellarium. (This work, “jupsat1”, adapted from Stellarium by Patrick Hartigan, is used under GPL-2.0, and provided under CC BY 4.0 with permission from Patrick Hartigan (Photo: Patrick Hartigan, astronomer at Rice University)

Hopefully for a clear sky because the pairing will be visible all over the world, with the best perspective of those near the equator.

“The further north the sights are, the less time they will have to peek at the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon,” Hartigan said.

The planets will be bright enough to be viewed in twilight, which may be the best time for many American viewers to observe the conjunction.

“By the time the sky gets completely dark in Houston, for example, the pairing will only be 9 degrees above the horizon,” Hartigan said. “It would be manageable if the weather were cooperative and you had an unobstructed view to the southwest.”

If you are in New York or London, or along these latitudes, try to locate the connection point right after sunset. Waiting an hour after sunset will bring the planets closer to the horizon, making them more difficult to spot.

Hartigan said that the best conditions to witness this astronomical event would include a clear southwest horizon and no low clouds in the distance. Binoculars or a telescope can help you spot the planets. He said the telescope would enable seeing the rings of Saturn and the brighter moons of both planets.

If you miss this connection and want to see the planets in the same proximity, slightly higher in the sky, it won’t happen until March 15, 2080 – then it won’t happen again until after 2400.

Between 0 and 3000 AD, or the common era, only seven conjunctions were or will be closer – and two of them were too close to the Sun to be seen without a telescope, according to Hartigan. So, yes, this is a very rare event.

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