Michiganders can see one of the most significant astrological events as the two largest planets will appear to merge together in the night sky.
MICHIGAN—Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, are expected to appear closer than they have in the last 800 years on Dec. 21, and will appear to “merge” together into a single “Christmas Star” in the night’s sky.
The event will mark the closest the two celestial bodies have been together since the Middle Ages, according to Phys.org.
“On the 21st of December, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will occur, #Jupiter and #Saturn will be in a Great Conjunction and will be so close, they’ll appear as a single bright star,” the Perth Observatory in Australia explained.
“The last time the two planets were this close was on the 16th of July 1623 while Galileo Galilei the father of observational astronomy was still alive.”
Stargazers can watch the two planets inching closer together between now and the solstice. By the end of their transit, the two planets will look like one big, bright star.
The last time they got this close was in 1623 during a far less noticeable conjunction that happened just 13 degrees east of the sun.
“The closest observable Jupiter-Saturn conjunction before that was as long ago as during medieval times, in 1226!” the observatory added.
“At their closest in December, Jupiter and Saturn will be only 0.1 degree apart. That’s just 1/5 of a full moon diameter. Start watching them now, and you’ll see them draw close together.”
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, those looking at them through a telescope will likely be able to see both planets in one field of view.
While the planets will appear to be close, they will actually be hundreds of millions of miles apart.
This phenomenon can be viewed from anywhere around the world according to the International Dark Sky Association, but the farther north you are, the less time you’ll have to catch a glimpse of the conjunction before it moves below the horizon.
Binoculars or a telescope are recommended, although they will be visible to the naked eye.
“They will still be quite a striking sight, but you will need to look fast as both planets will set shortly after sunset,” the observatory wrote.
“Look above the western horizon after sunset for these bright, close planets – a clear view will help!”
The next conjunction this close is not expected to happen until 2080.
Dec. 21 is a Monday evening, as noted in a blog by Gordon Johnston, a former planetary program executive at NASA in his monthly blog on the solar system. The conjunction is expected to be visible to the naked eye.
“Monday evening, December 21, 2020, will be when the bright planet Jupiter and the fainter planet Saturn will appear nearest to each other, about 1/5 of the apparent diameter of the Moon (1/10 of a degree) apart,” Johnston wrote.
“As evening twilight ends, they will appear about 12 degrees above the southwestern horizon. I expect they will appear spectacular with the naked eye or with a backyard telescope.”
Jupiter takes nearly 12 years to complete one trip around the Sun, while Saturn takes just over 29 years.
Conjunctions between the two planets happen every 20 years, with the last one coming in 2000.