Next week! Jupiter and Saturn to form rare 'double planet' for first time in 800 years

Lisa Walden
·2-min read

From Country Living

A Jupiter and Saturn Conjunction will form a rare "double planet" for the first time in 800 years on Monday 21st December — and you certainly don't want to miss it. This planet formation has not been seen since the Middle Ages.

This means that people who view Jupiter and Saturn on 21st December 2020 (also the night of the winter solstice) will see them appear closer than anyone alive today has ever seen them before. Here's what will happen...

Known as a Conjunction, the stellar astronomical event will see the two planets line up so perfectly that it will look like they are touching. According to Patrick Hartigan, a professor at Rice University, it occurs when Jupiter and Saturn are separated by a distance in the sky "equal to about one-fifth of a full moon's diameter".

Patrick explained on his website: "In fact, they will be so close it may be a challenge to separate them with the unaided eye for many people. But it is fair to say that this conjunction is truly exceptional in that the planets get very close to one another."

In a statement, Patrick said: "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."

Photo credit: Jiale Tan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jiale Tan - Getty Images

How can you view the Jupiter and Saturn Conjunction or "double planet"?

The approach will take place from Wednesday 16th December right up until Christmas Day but Jupiter and Saturn will be at their closest on Monday 21st December.

The best view will be an hour after sunset, if the weather allows. The planets will appear low in the western sky.

It will be possible to see the Jupiter and Saturn Conjunction without a telescope but, in order to get the best view of the two planets, grab your telescope and head to an area with little light pollution. Patrick explained that "setting up your telescope before it gets fully dark" and "bringing binoculars" will help you to see it better.

He added: "Observers without a telescope it may find it a challenge to resolve both planets, but it can be done. This is an event that could be impressive to see, but you will have to be prepared and binoculars will likely be very helpful for seeing it well in most skies."

They won't stay aligned for long, so you'll have to be quick if you want to spot this spectacular view.

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