Keep an eye out for the ‘Christmas star’ tonight
Hopefully, 2020 will end on a good note with the sighting of the ‘Christmas star’ as Jupiter and Saturn merge in the night sky on December 21. It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night.
A rare celestial event, the union between Jupiter and Saturn is being termed a ‘great conjunction’ as the two planets will be just one-tenth of a degree apart from our perspective or about one-fifth the width of a full moon.
The 'Great Conjunction' will be easily visible around the world a little after sunset, if the rain gods are kind enough. To see it, be ready shortly after sunset, looking to the southwest fairly low on the horizon. Saturn will be the smaller, fainter blob at Jupiter's upper right.
Binoculars will be needed to separate the two planets. Even though Jupiter and Saturn will be 400 million miles apart, they’ll create a radiant point of light in the night sky from Earth’s point of view. This phenomenon is being called the ‘Christmas Star’ or the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ due to the proximity of the event to Christmas.
Great conjunction occurs approximately every 20 years, because of the time each of the planets takes to orbit around the Sun. The 2020’s great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will be the closest since 1623. Such an event is next likely to happen in 2080.
Meanwhile, a cameraman who covered the T-20 match between New Zealand and Pakistan on Sunday stole the show when he captured the rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in one frame during the second innings, with Saturn’s rings clearly visible.
According to the NASA website, 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.