Space enthusiasts will get a rare opportunity to watch two planets of the solar system come closer than ever right ahead of Christmas this year. Dubbed as the great conjunction that will happen on December 21 (Monday), Jupiter and Saturn, the two biggest planets in our solar system will appear very close together in the sky. What makes the event even more special is the fact that the two planets will be closest than they have been since the Middle Ages.
Here is how you can witness this spectacular stellar event:
The December 21 event should be easy to witness, according to astronomy educator and former planetarium director Jeffrey Hunt, who has written about the event on his website, When the Curves Line Up. The event will be visible from anywhere on Earth given the skies are clear.
Astronomy enthusiasts should step outside after sunset to find the planets in the southern sky. He also advises that a pair of binoculars is helpful and the planetary duo will be visible to the unaided eye as Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn. The planets fit into the eyepiece of a spotting telescope or small telescope at low power.
On the evening of this conjunction, you can also spot Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s four brightest and largest moons with the aid of binoculars or a telescope. Astronomy photographers can also capture this once in a lifetime moment. As Hunt said, a tripod-mounted camera with exposures ranging up to ten seconds can capture the planets and the background stars quite easily. Even a smartphone camera, according to Hunt, if steadily held, can capture the planets during a typical exposure with no settings changes.
From December 16 for about the next ten evenings, Jupiter and Saturn are close together and are a ‘can’t miss event’ for anybody wanting to see this conjunction. After December 21, the planets will begin to slowly separate. They will appear lower in the sky and disappear into the sun’s glare during early 2021. Jupiter will slowly move away from Saturn as both revolve around the sun. Jupiter and Saturn will meet again on October 31, 2040.
The conjunction of planets is also referred to as the Christmas star. Adding a little Biblical theme to the event, some claim a similar planetary meetup created the legendary Star of Bethlehem that led the biblical Magi, also known as the three wise men, to the Christ Child. The idea was also proposed by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler back in the 17th century.