December 21, the night of the winter solstice, the two largest planets in the solar
system, i.e, Jupiter and Saturn will come closest to each other and will appear to
merge in the night sky. The two slow-moving planets will be 0.1 degrees apart.
Usually, Jupiter orbits the sun every 12 years while Saturn takes 29, that is, they
appear to pass each other nearly once every 20 years. However, this year, National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) claims that it has been 400 years
since these planets last passed each other so closely and 800 years to its alignment
occurring at night, and this alignment occurring at night would allow nearly
everyone in this world to witness this great conjunction.
The conjunction of these two giant gases will be visible to all. But binoculars and
telescope can enhance the viewing experience, as Jupiter’s 4 large moons orbiting
the planet can also be seen. Although, a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily
cover both the planets in the sky. In India, the conjunction can be seen from the
naked eye after the sunset in the southwestern sky between 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM.
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The Christmas star, another name for the rare phenomenon is given as the conjunction of these two planets would appear as one big star, even while being apart from each other. This star is believed to go back to the biblical story– the Star of Bethlehem, which appeared in the eastern sky when Jesus Christ was born and guided the three wise men to the baby Jesus in Jerusalem.
Currently, both the planets have continued tracing their orbits the past week and
have now aligned close to each other. Jupiter and Saturn appear as steady points of
light that do not twinkle, with Jupiter being the bigger and brighter of the two.
Such rare celestial events remind us just about how beautiful the cosmology is. The
next conjunction of this scale is likely to be in 2080.