Jupiter and Saturn are about to have their closest conjunction in modern history. Don’t miss this once-in-a-millennium event.
In an event that hasn’t occurred in 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn will line up to create a bright “star” in the sky known as the “Christmas Star” or the “Star of Bethlehem”.
What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky from our vantage point, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will tonight, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction”.
Tonight, the two planets will be just 0.1 degrees apart in the western sky–so close that some people will perceive them as a single brilliant “star”.
Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University, told Forbes.
Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to be to one another…
You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.
Stargazers in the northern hemisphere should turn their heads and telescopes to the southwest portion of the sky about 30-45 minutes after sunset to see the two planets. They will be low on the horizon, and will disappear later in the evening as they slip below the horizon.
It would look like this, only closer tonight in the USA:
If you have a small telescope or binoculars, the view might look like this:
And if you have a bigger telescope, and the means, you might see this:
For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s what to do:
- Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
- An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
- The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.