Jupiter and Saturn will soon resemble ‘double planet’ for first time since Middle Ages

In the run-up to Christmas, eagle-eyed stargazers are in for a treat. Just after the Sun sets on the evening of Monday, December 21, gas giant Jupiter and ‘ringed jewel’ Saturn will appear incredibly close. The planetary pair will in fact be nearer to each other than at any other point since the Middle Ages.

This remarkable event offers both photography enthusiasts and amateur astronomers a wonderful way to ring in the winter solstice.

This conjunction is exceptionally rare

Professor Patrick Hartigan

Professor Patrick Hartigan, a Rice University astronomer, said in a statement: “Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so.

“But this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another.

“You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.”

Jupiter and Saturn have actually been incrementally approaching since the summer of this year.

Professor Hartigan revealed how between December 16 to 25, the duo will be separated by less than the diameter of a Full Moon.

He said: “On the evening of closest approach on Dec 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only a fifth the diameter of the Full Moon.

“For most telescope viewers, each planet and several of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”

How to see the December 2020 Jupiter and Saturn double planet?

Astronomers agree the best conditions for viewing the double planet phenomenon will be close to the equator.

However, the event will be observable from everywhere on Earth – weather-permitting.

Professor Hartigan confirmed the planetary duo will continue to loom low in the western sky for approximately an hour after sunset each evening.

He said: ”The further north a viewer is, the less time they’ll have to catch a glimpse of the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon.”

How to see the December 2020 Jupiter and Saturn double planet?

Astronomers agree the best conditions for viewing the double planet phenomenon will be close to the equator.

However, the event will be observable from everywhere on Earth – weather-permitting.

Professor Hartigan confirmed the planetary duo will continue to loom low in the western sky for approximately an hour after sunset each evening.

He said: ”The further north a viewer is, the less time they’ll have to catch a glimpse of the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon.”

And the good news for stargazers is the planets will be bright enough to be viewed during the twilight hours.

This period is considered to be the best time for many people to observe the cosmic conjunction.

The astronomer added: ”By the time skies are fully dark in Houston, for example, the conjunction will be just 9 degrees above the horizon.

“Viewing that would be manageable if the weather cooperates and you have an unobstructed view to the southwest.”

Only an hour after sunset, people in the UK looking up should find the planets even closer to the horizon, roughly 7.5 degrees.

And viewers in similar latitudes will do well to catch a glimpse of the rare astronomical sight as soon after sunset as possible.

Those who prefer to wait and see Jupiter and Saturn this close together in heavens again will have to wait until March 15, 2080.

After that, the pair will make another such appearance until the year 2400.

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