The first thing one sees when opening the Google start page today (December 21) is an animated picture of two planets. Today’s animated Doodle “celebrates the Northern Hemisphere’s first day of winter as well as this rare double planet sighting.” This can be viewed from anywhere around the globe.
Tonight, the night sky is set to shine even brighter due to the rare union of two planets – Jupiter and Saturn, for the first time in the last 400 years making this month a lucky one for astronomy enthusiasts.
Experts call this appearance the Great Conjunction of 2020, which will be visible in the night sky on December 21, coinciding with the winter solstice. The exact opposite happens in the southern hemisphere.
The Jupiter-Saturn Great Conjunction is being referred to as the ‘Christmas Star of 2020’.
According to NASA, this event takes place after approximately 400 years since the planets were this close to each other in the sky. And almost 800 years after Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the night. The actual distance between Jupiter and Saturn this month will be around 735 million km. Although, the heavenly bodies simply appear to be close when seen from Earth due to their orbital alignment.
However, the planet duo will be located in a position that will make it seem as if the two have actually merged.
During the conjunction, Saturn and Jupiter will appear just 0.1 degrees apart from an observer on Earth. In fact, they will be so close that both can be easily adjusted in the same telescopic field of view.
The last time the two planets were so close is said to be in 1623 – just after famous Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei started observing the sky using a telescope. Such a close approach of Jupiter and Saturn happened earlier in 1623 and 1683 and will happen again in the years 2080, 2417 and 2477.
According to experts, Jupiter and Saturn do exhibit conjunctions in 2040 and 2060 events, which is why they will not appear as one to us Earthlings.
This fact makes the 2020 conjunctions a once in a lifetime experience for most people here on Earth as the next closet approach is expected after 337 years.
Among the two gas giants, Jupiter(magnitude – 2.0) is expected to appear brighter, while Saturn (magnitude 0.6) will be slightly dimmer. To grab a glimpse of their union, look towards the south-western horizon between 5:28 PM to 7:12 PM IST on December 21.
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