The closest visible encounter between Jupiter and Saturn in 800 years.
Before 2020 ends, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that they will appear to form a “double planet,” known as a “Christmas Star” and the “Great Conjunction.” Forming an amazing spectacle in the sky for the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the Christmas Star sighting is an extremely rare event. Alignments between Jupiter and Saturn occur every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is especially rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another. This conjunction takes place with less than one-tenth of a degree separation. While these two planets may appear to collide, they are still hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA. The planets are large, so the planets appear close.
A RARE EVENT
“Not all planetary conjunctions are alike, and few happen within the winter solstice. Each Great Conjunction has different angular separations, and the distances between the two planets can vary based on how the planets are aligned. This Christmas Star event is rarer than a ‘once in a lifetime event.’ So, I recommend looking into the night’s sky through Christmas 2020 and making a wish.” – Olympia LePoint, retired Rocket Scientist for NASA Space Programs.
The last time a person could clearly see this Great Conjunction with a closer proximity between planets was on March 4, 1226. Though in 2020, this event is the first time humans have advanced technology to see the ‘Christmas Star’ capturing both the gaseous planets at once.
According to NASA, people can see the phenomenon around 45 minutes after sunset by finding a clear line of sight towards the horizon where the sun sets. It does not have to be fully dark. During twilight, the Great Conjunction can be visible.
Early scientists attempted to link the planets convergence “Christmas Star,” to be known as the “Star of Bethlehem,” which is documented in The New Testament. In this biblical story, the Christmas Star guided the three wise men to the birth of Jesus. Astronomer Johannes Kepler was one of the first scientists to lead in the suggestion. Though the timing of this past event is only theorized, and not proven.
In 1604, Kepler observed the tight arrangement of three planets and a new star. Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and a supernova was seen, then the light slowly faded over the course of a year. Kepler found that the planets moved in an elliptical motion – and not in a circle – a distinction that allowed him to precisely predict their observed positions. This occurrence inspired Kepler to consider a similar set of events that might have led the wise men to Bethlehem in time for Jesus Christ’s birth.
In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the rings of Saturn and the four moons of Jupiter at the same time. A little over a decade later, in 1623, the two planets were spotted aligning for the first time. The event prompted spiritual leaders to state the planetary alignment was a sign of prosperity and healing for the world. At which time, the conjunction was said to birth great personal healing, global ideas and future success.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TODAY?
This 2020 Christmas Star event proves that Kepler was 100% correct in his theory of planetary motion. With it Kepler introduced the law of gravity as a moving force within the universe. Rather than orbiting the Sun in circles, planetary motion developed by Kepler inspired the late mathematician Sir Issac Newton to write, his greatest work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, where Newton laid down his ideas on the law of gravity. This work forever changed the world of science. With this knowledge, the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson helped launched men to the moon, and NASA engineers launched astronauts to the International Space Station.
Today in 2020, three California institutions — the Mount Wilson Observatory, Carnegie Observatories, and Glendale Community College — will host a virtual viewing party starting on Monday, December 21, 2020 at 8 pm ET. Viewers can sign up on Zoom or watch on YouTube to witness the event through a Mount Wilson Observatory telescope. The conjunction is ongoing. Their close approach will continue through Christmas, and it will look like a “double planet.”
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