The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, have fascinated astronomers for hundreds of years. But the two gas giants will do something next month not seen since the Middle Ages – they will look like a double planet.
The rare event will take place after sunset on December 21, 2020, the beginning of winter solstice.
“Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years, but this connection is extremely rare due to the close proximity of the planets to each other,” said Rice University astronomer , Patrick Hartigan, in a statement. “You would 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.”
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Between Dec. 16 and Dec. 25, the two planets will be separated by less than a full moon, Hartigan added.
“On the night of the closest on December 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only a fifth diameter of the full moon,” explained Hartigan. “For most telescope viewers, every planet and many of their largest moons will be in the same field of view that night.”
The heavenly event can be observed anywhere on earth, but Hartigan noted that the farther north a person is, the less time they have to catch a glimpse.
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Stargazers should try to see the event next month or risk waiting a long time for the next event. The two planets will not be as close again until March 15, 2080, and sometime after the year 2400, Hartigan explained.
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