Published: Mon, December 21, 2020
Science | By

Jupiter and Saturn cheek-to-cheek in rare celestial dance

Jupiter and Saturn cheek-to-cheek in rare celestial dance

A very rare, once-in-a-lifetime celestial event will shine brightly in the sky on Monday evening - weather permitting, of course.

Today, Jupiter and Saturn will be the closest they have been to each other in about 800 years. They will be visible almost an hour after sunset in the southwestern sky.

On Monday night, a truly rare astronomical event will occur: Jupiter and Saturn will align in what NASA's calling the "great conjunction."

This phenomenon is being called the "Christmas Star" or the "Star of Bethlehem" due to the proximity of the event to Christmas.

The conjunction of the two planets happens about every 20 years, but they're not always the same.

The last time Jupiter and Saturn nuzzled up this close was in 1623, but weather conditions in regions where the reunion could be seen blocked the view.

"You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium", said Henry Throop, astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. To spot the planets, look for the brightest thing you can see just above the south-western horizon between 5pm and 6pm.

NASA handout shows Moon (L), Saturn (upperR), Jupiter (lowerR), as they are seen after sunset.


Griffin said anywhere with clear skies tonight and tomorrow night would make for perfect viewing, ideally looking towards the southwest. Jupiter, bigger and closer to Earth, is much brighter.

As per NASA, Saturn will be slightly fainter as it will appear to be above the largest planet of our solar system towards the left.

"If you have a small telescope or pair of binoculars, you can see Jupiter and Saturn appearing to touch each other - you should be able to see the rings and shape of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter". It will be visible to watch with the naked eye.

Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia.

What makes this year's spectacle so rare, then?

The Guwahati Planetarium has been opened up to view planets Saturn and Jupiter together.

A "Christmas Star" will appear in the sky tomorrow night for the first time in nearly 1,000 years. It suggests one to keep eyes to the skies for the current "great conjunction" of Saturn and Jupiter.

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