Christmas Star 2020: ‘Great conjunction’ of Jupiter and Saturn to illuminate the December sky

The 'Great Conjunction' is all set to take place this Christmas season after a gap of almost 400 years.

After 397 long years, Jupiter and Saturn will align, appearing to be the closest on the night of December 21st, 2020. A rare celestial event that has come to be known as the ‘Great Conjunction’, the phenomenon was last witnessed in the year 1623 on 12 July. The next alignment of these two gaseous giant planets will take place in 2080 on March 15.
According to experts, this alignment will look like a ‘double planet’ or an ‘elongated star’ with the naked eye. The ‘Great Conjunction’ can be better witnessed with a smaller telescope or even a pair of binoculars that will likely allow the viewer to witness Jupiter’s moons.

This astronomical event occurred in the year 1226 before it had appeared in the 17th century. However, this alignment will be the closest and the brightest as compared to its appearance in the previous centuries. Explaining the phenomenon, Dr. Debiprosad Duari, the director of Research and Academic at the M.P. Birla Institute of Fundamental Research revealed that although the planets will look like they are positioned on top of the other, they will still be around 735 million kms apart. 

“You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium…From our vantage point, we’ll be able to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21,” said Henry Throop, an astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in a press release. 

The ‘Great Conjunction’ taking place on December 21 which is pre-Christmas also has a lot many believing that this is the same astronomical event which has been recorded in the Bible that led the wise men to Joseph, Mary, and the newborn Jesus, the star of Bethlehem. However, these beliefs are more mythical than fact. 

This spectacular phenomenon will be most prominent on the night of December 21 around 11:50 pm IST, which also happens to be the longest night of the year but can also be observed in the southwestern sky approaching closer to one another with each passing night. The day is also the winter solstice day in the northern hemisphere.

The ‘Great Conjunction’ will next happen in the year 2080 and after that, it will likely take place after the year 2400 which is centuries away. The amateur astronomers, star watchers and the like must look out for the grand event that will take place right after sunset and will be visible in the low horizon of the southwestern sky. Jupiter will be bigger and brighter while Saturn will be right next to it only smaller and with a fainter light. Both the planets will eventually descend into the night, vanishing into the horizon. Those that want to witness the ‘Great Conjunction’ can visit here which will telecast the event live.

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