A RARE sight will be visible around the world in the sky tonight, Monday, December 21 – Saturn and Jupiter will align and come so close together that they will appear as a single star or ‘double planet’. It is also known as the Christmas Star.
It will be visible in the southwest at 7.22 pm in Spain (6.22 pm in the UK). It will be just 10 degrees above the horizon, so the best place to see it is somewhere with an obstacle-free view.
Within half an hour, they will be lower still in the sky, but the darker night will make them easier to observe.
This alignment, thought by some including 17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, to be what caused the Star of Bethlehem, has not been seen since April 15, 1623, and won’t be seen again until 2080 and 2417.
The Great Conjunction will be visible to the naked eye and anyone with a telescope will be in for a real treat. NASA has said the sight will be “spectacular”.
December 21 also marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically at 11:02 am in Spain, so it will be a spectacular start to the season.
Winter will be over on March 21, 2021.
It takes 11.86 years for Jupiter to orbit the Earth and 29.46 years for Saturn, so they only meet approximately every 20 years, but depending on the position of the Earth, they appear more or less aligned.
Jupiter is currently 890 million kilometres from the Earth, while Saturn is 1.62 billion kilometres away, so being able to witness them aligned within just six degrees is truly extraordinary.
The last time it happened, around 800 years ago, it wasn’t visible to the naked eye, as the planets were closer to the sun and telescopes had only just been invented.
However, back in 1223, the phenomenon could easily be seen, and on that occasion, the planets were even closer together on the arch they describe on their journey.
Although not aligned, Saturn and Jupiter will still be visible every evening at nightfall until mid-January.
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