Just before Christmas this year, on December 21, the world will be treated to a sight that has not been seen by human eyes since the Middle Ages when the planets Saturn and Jupiter will align, making a beautiful bright star in the night skies.
The sight will be extraordinary, as the two planets, each usually visible with just the naked eye, will “combine” their light and look like a “double planet,” something that hasn’t been seen since March 4, 1226, according to astronomer Patrick Hartigan from Rice University.
“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 be to one another,” Hartigan explains in an interview with Forbes.
“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,” the astronomer said in a statement.
The spectacular sighting, providing what promises to be an unforgettable experience for stargazers, will be viewable from anywhere on earth, but will be most easily seen with a telescope.
“The planets will appear low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset as viewed from the northern hemisphere, and though they’ll be closest on December 21, you can look each evening that week,” Hartigan says.
Although the aligned planets will be sinking toward the horizon, making them more difficult to see because of light pollution, the phenomenon will still be bright enough to be viewed at twilight. All you need, the astronomer says, is “an unobstructed view to the southwest, and to look to the southwest from about 45 minutes after sunset where you are,” he states.
To catch the spectacular phenomenon in the night sky at its best, stargazers might want to use a regular telescope. For a brighter view, an astronomer’s telescope or a university telescope feed would be even better.
The Forbes article says that alignments like these, called “planetary conjunctions,” are not necessarily rare, but some of them are impossibly rare or only come around once every several hundred years.
Astronomers have long speculated that the Star of David written of in the Biblical book of Matthew, was an exceptionally rare triple conjunction between the planets Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus. One such astronomer was the brilliant Johannes Kepler, one of the greatest astronomers of all time.