Saturn and Jupiter Will Form "Double Planet" Illusion by Christmas

While things on planet Earth may be kind of a disaster this year, the night sky has been offering up some incredible sights all throughout 2020. Over Halloween stargazers were treated to a rare full moon seen nearly globally that also happened to the smallest moon of the year while earlier this month, the planets aligned so that nearly every planet in the solar system was on display at different points in the night sky. However, the cosmos may well have saved the best for last as this year's winter solstice will see Jupiter and Saturn form a rare "double planet" in the sky, something that hasn't happened in 800 years.

According to Popular Mechanics (via Deseret News), Jupiter and Saturn's orbits will come close enough together that it will appear as though they are on top of each other in the western sky, creating a very bright "double planet" effect on December 21st. Technically, the alignment took place a few weeks ago, though from Earth's perspective it won't happen until the 21st. The last time this happened with such closeness was in the Middle Ages, specifically in 1623, and some -- including German astronomer Johannes Kepler all the way back in 1614 -- have suggested that the astronomical event may have been what the Nativity Story calls the Star of Bethlehem.

If you're wanting to catch this rare cosmic event, you'll need to act quickly on the night of the 21st. For those in the northern hemisphere, the planets will appear in the southwestern sky near the constellation Capricorn right after sunset. The planets will dip below the horizon just a few hours after sunset and there won't be another event -- called a conjunction -- that's this close until March 15, 2080. If you do head outside to see the conjunction on the 21st though, you may want to bring your telescope. It's possible you'll be able to see the Galilean moons, bands of Jupiter, and Saturn's rings all at the same time.

What do you think? Will you be checking out this rare conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter? Did you catch the appearance of nearly all of the planets in the solar system earlier this month? Let us know in the comments.

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