(ORDO NEWS) — Immediately after sunset on the evening of December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will be closer to each other in the night sky than at any time since the Middle Ages, and amateur astronomers around the world will have a unique opportunity to observe this curious and extremely rare astronomical configuration on the eve of the winter solstice.
“The conjunctions of the two planets are extremely rare, but this particular conjunction is particularly rare because the planets will be very close to each other,” said Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University in the United States. “In order to observe a closer conjunction of these planets in the night sky, we would have to return on March 4, 1226.”
Jupiter and Saturn have been approaching each other in the night sky since last summer. In the period from December 16 to 25, these planets will be separated by a distance not exceeding the diameter of the full moon.
“On the evening of their closest approach on December 21, they will appear as a twin planet, separated by less than 1/5 the diameter of the full moon,” said Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy. “For most amateur astronomers looking at the night sky through a telescope, both planets and several of their largest satellites will be in the same field of view this evening.”
Although the best conditions for observing this planetary conjunction are predicted in equatorial latitudes, the event will be observed from anywhere on the Earth’s surface, subject to favorable weather conditions. Hartigan noted that this “planetary duo” will be observed low in the western sky for about one hour after sunset each evening.
Those who want to see Jupiter and Saturn converge in the sky as close, but will be higher above the horizon, will have to wait until March 15, 2080, Hartigan said. After that, a similar configuration for this planetary pair will not be observed until 2400 BC.
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