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Jupiter and Saturn will appear together as a brightly shining "double planet" Christmas week


The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, will appear closer together in the night sky during Christmas week than they have at any point in the past 800 years, astronomers say.

Both gas giants have gradually grown closer since the beginning of summer and will appear almost as a double planetary system on December 21st.

The phenomenon known as conjunction can be seen anywhere on earth, but from the UK they will be very low on the horizon – just after sunset.

At their closest position, the two worlds appear less than a full moon apart – shortly after sunset on the winter solstice and until around Christmas.

The German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote in 1614 that he believed that the "star of Bethlehem" in the nativity story could have been a connection between Jupiter and Saturn.

Others have suggested that the "three wise men" might have followed a triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

While Venus won't be visible as part of conjunction 2020, it will nonetheless be an impressive astronomical site, best viewed at the equator but seen worldwide.

Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer together in the night sky on December 21st than they have for nearly 800 years, astronomers have said. In the picture, how the night sky in the southwest will appear on the evening of the winter solstice

On December 21st, shortly after sunset, Saturn and Jupiter appear low on the horizon in the southwest - they will be less than a full moon width apart - and appear almost as one object

On December 21st, shortly after sunset, Saturn and Jupiter appear low on the horizon in the southwest – they will be less than a full moon width apart – and appear almost as one object

If you have a telescope and are looking towards Jupiter and Saturn on December 21st, they will appear farther apart than from Earth, but you can still see the larger moons and the two gas giants in the same field of view

If you have a telescope and are looking towards Jupiter and Saturn on December 21st, they will appear farther apart than from Earth, but you can still see the larger moons and the two gas giants in the same field of view

Those in London and New York will see the planets close to the horizon (at about 5.3 ° and 7.5 °, respectively, about an hour after sunset.

"Alignments between these two planets are rather rare and occur about every 20 years," said astronomer Patrick Hartigan of Rice University in Houston, Texas.

"But this conjunction is exceptionally rare because the planets are close together," he explained.

"You would have to go back to just before sunrise on March 4, 1226 to see closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky."

The German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote in 1614 that he believed that the "Star of Bethlehem" in the biblical story of the three wise men could have been a rare triple lead from Jupiter, Saturn and Venus

The German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote in 1614 that he believed that the "Star of Bethlehem" in the biblical story of the three wise men could have been a rare triple lead from Jupiter, Saturn and Venus

The next time Jupiter and Saturn appear this close in the sky, it won't be until March 15, 2080 – when they will be visible higher in the sky and longer.

The next such connection of the two bodies thereafter will not take place until sometime after the year 2400.

"On the evening of closest rapprochement on December 21st, they will look like a double planet separated by only 1/5 the diameter of the full moon," added Professor Hartigan.

"For most telescope viewers, every planet and several of its largest moons will be visible in the same field of view this evening."

The next time Jupiter and Saturn appear this close in the sky, it won't be until March 15, 2080 - when they will be visible higher in the sky and longer.

The next time Jupiter and Saturn appear this close in the sky, it won't be until March 15, 2080 – when they will be visible higher in the sky and longer.

Twitter users have shared images of the night sky showing Jupiter and Saturn (halfway between the trees) as they move closer together

Twitter users have shared images of the night sky showing Jupiter and Saturn (halfway between the trees) as they move closer together

While Kepler believed a connection between Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus was behind the story of the star of Bethlehem in the Bible, others believed that it may have been another astronomical event such as a large comet in the sky.

Professor Hartigan said the planetary duo would appear low in the western sky around sunset – and should be bright enough to be viewed in the twilight sky.

In reality, the two planets will still be millions of miles apart – Jupiter is about 5 AU from Earth (one AU is the distance from Earth to the Sun) and Saturn is 10 AU from Earth – but they appear due to of differences in their orbit together.

When Jupiter and Saturn (shown here as bright lights) come together, they are visible in the southwest sky at dusk

When Jupiter and Saturn (shown here as bright lights) come together, they are visible in the southwest sky at dusk

After the giant planets have "approached" since summer, they appear less than a full moon apart shortly after sunset on the winter solstice shown

After the giant planets have "approached" since summer, they appear less than a full moon apart shortly after sunset on the winter solstice shown

The heavenly sight should be visible from anywhere on earth - weather permitting - experts said, although the best views are near the equator. "On the evening of the closest approach on December 21, they will look like a double planet separated by only 1/5 the diameter of the full moon," added US astronomer Patrick Hartigan. "For most telescope viewers, every planet and several of its largest moons will be visible in the same field of view this evening."

The heavenly sight should be visible from anywhere on earth – weather permitting – experts said, although the best views are near the equator. "On the evening of the closest approach on December 21, they will look like a double planet separated by only 1/5 the diameter of the full moon," added US astronomer Patrick Hartigan. "For most telescope viewers, every planet and several of its largest moons will be visible in the same field of view this evening."

The two planets will gradually get closer and closer in November and December until they appear as a single object on December 21st - before they part after Christmas

The two planets will gradually get closer and closer in November and December until they appear as a single object on December 21st – before they part after Christmas

"The further north a viewer is, the less time they will have to look at the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon," explained Professor Hartigan.

"For example, when the sky in Houston is completely dark, the conjunction is only 9 degrees above the horizon," he added.

"To see that would be manageable if the weather cooperates and you have a clear view to the southwest."

If you have a telescope and look up for conjunction on December 21st, you will not only see Jupiter and Saturn, but also some of their largest moons in the same field of view, according to astronomers.

Users have shared images of Jupiter and Saturn that appear as bright stars as they move closer together in the lead up to their conjunction on December 21st

Users have shared images of Jupiter and Saturn that appear as bright stars as they move closer together in the lead up to their conjunction on December 21st

THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM: INSPIRED THE THREE WISE MEN TO BABY JESUS ​​IN BIBLE STORIES

The star of Bethlehem or the poinsettia is said to have inspired the three wise men from the east to visit the baby Jesus in Bible stories.

It appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where they are said to have asked King Herod of Judea where he was born as King of the Jews. For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him. & # 39;

It is said that the star took them to the hometown of Jesus, where they worshiped him and gave him gifts of golden frankincense and myrrh.

The Gospel describes the visitors as "magicians", which is usually translated as "broad men", but can also be described as an astronomer / astrologer.

Astronomers have made several attempts to calculate what that star could have been – whether it was a celestial event or a pious fiction.

The famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote in 1614 that he believed that the "Star of Bethlehem" in the biblical story of the three wise men could have been a rare triple lead from Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.

This would create a very bright point of light in the sky that would only appear for a few days. A similar conjunction should take place at Christmas 2020.

Other theories are a supernova explosion that comes pretty close – which could appear like a very, very bright sky or even a comet for a relatively short period of time.

Chinese and Korean stargazers have written over a bright object that may have been around 5 BC. Was a comet or supernova and has been seen for more than 70 days.

Ancient astronomers wrote about comets that "hang" over certain cities – just as the star of Bethlehem is supposed to "stand" over the place where Jesus was born – the city of Bethlehem.

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