Planets to merge for rare star
December 17, 2020
On December 21, this year’s winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, will appear to almost merge in the night’s sky, forming what is called the Christmas Star. A celestial show that hasn’t been seen in 800 years. The phenomenon is being called the Great Conjunction of 2020. The point at which these two planets are the closest to each other in the night’s sky as seen from Earth. While this close encounter happens around every 20 years, the last time the two planets were so close was in 1623. However, stargazing conditions at that point on time, most likely meant that humans weren’t capable of seeing such an event. According to EarthSky, the last time such a close pairing was observable to the naked eye was in 1226.
Jupiter and Saturn will sit at just a tenth of a degree apart on the night of December 21. It is best to keep in mind that while the two gas giants may appear to merge into one, they are still hundreds of millions of miles apart. They can however, both be seen in the same telescopic field of view with your own telescope or a strong pair of binoculars. Some will even be able to see the Christmas Star with the naked eye. The astronomical event received its name from astronomers because of the belief that the biblical tale of the Star of Bethlehem, could have been a planetary conjunction.
NASA says on the evenings of December 15 through 18, you can easily find Jupiter and Saturn as they start moving in conjunction, by looking toward the waxing crescent moon in the western sky, 45 minutes after sunset. On the night of the solstice, the moon will be higher in the sky, but Jupiter and Saturn will remain closer to the horizon in the western sky, giving them the appearance of one large star.
The Christmas Star will brighten the darkest day of the year, and you don’t want to miss the show. The duo won’t be this close in the sky until 2080.