Saw The ‘Christmas Star?’ How You Can See A Rare ‘Triple Conjunction’ Of Three Planets This Weekend

News

Jupiter, Saturn and their exceedingly rare and beautiful “great conjunction” on the date of 2020’s winter solstice are by now just a memory. The (auspicious?) celestial event on December 21—known colloquially as the “Christmas Star” and officially as a “great conjunction”—saw the two biggest planets in our Solar System appear to come within 0.1º of each other and shine almost as a single point of light. 

It was a spectacular sight as both planets appeared in the same field of view of telescopes and binoculars, but in reality it was little more than a line-of-sight trick of perspective since the two planets remained about 456 million of miles apart. 

MORE FROM FORBESIn Photos: ‘Christmas Star’ Dazzles As Jupiter And Saturn Align In Best Display Since The 13th Century

Since then they’ve drifted apart to about 1º from each other, but nevertheless the effect will be arguably magnified this week as the two giant outer planets are joined by inner planet Mercury in the same 2º of sky in the constellation of Capricorn.  

On Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10, 2021, Jupiter (brightest), Mercury and Saturn (dimmest) will form a small triangle in the post-sunset night sky. It promises to be a spectacular sight, but it will also be worth looking for the trio on Friday and Monday, January 8 and 11, 2021. 

MORE FOR YOU

Rare it may be, but thanks to Mercury’s swift orbit around the Sun (it takes just 88 days to round our star) there will also be a triple conjunction of the same three planets in February. 

Here’s everything you need to know about how to see this rare “triple conjunction” in the evening sky this weekend from the northern hemisphere—and bid farewell to the outer planets for many months. 

MORE FROM FORBESBest Space Images Of 2020: A ‘Christmas Star’ And A ‘Comet Of The Century’ To A New Hubble Masterpiece

How to see the ‘triple conjunction’

The action will happen just above the west-southwest horizon, so you will need to be in an observing position that allows you to see very low down. An ocean is helpful. So is height—a third or higher storey of a building is ideal. You need no obstructions and, of course, clear skies, which are never guaranteed. That’s partly why it’s best to go looking for this celestial match-up for a few nights. Any pair of binoculars will be helpful. 

MORE FROM FORBESDonald Trump’s Presidency Will End On The Day Of A Comet, A Meteor Shower And A Total Eclipse Of The Sun

How to see the ‘triple conjunction’ on Friday, January 8, 2021

This is a sight you should try to look for about 30 minutes after sunset—as soon as it gets dark. The three planets will be strung out in a line low on the horizon and they’ll completely sink from view within 90 minutes of sunset. So get outside at the time of sunset where you are and look low to the west-southwest horizon. 

Jupiter will become visible first, then Mercury below it. Finally, Saturn—10 times dimmer than Jupiter—will become visible. Binoculars will be really handy, particularly for Saturn. 

MORE FROM FORBESHow You Can See A Once-In-10-Lifetimes ‘Christmas Star’ Planets This Week With Your Naked Eyes

How to see the ‘triple conjunction’ on Saturday, January 9, 2021

Tonight is the first of two opportunities to see the “triple conjunction” as a near-triangle of planets as Mercury moves away from the Sun and closer to Saturn. Mercury will get to within about 1.5º from Saturn. 

MORE FROM FORBESA Spectacularly Rare ‘Christmas Star’ Is Coming In December As Two Worlds Align After Sunset

How to see the ‘triple conjunction’ on Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tonight is the second—are arguably the best—of two opportunities to see the “triple conjunction” as a triangle.

With Mercury having moved slightly further away from the Sun, the tiny planet will appear roughly equidistant between Jupiter and Saturn to form a near-perfect triangle. 

MORE FROM FORBESWill You See The ‘Christmas Star’ On The Solstice? Why 2020’s Longest Night Of The Year Is Unique

How to see the ‘triple conjunction’ on Monday, January 11, 2021

The perfect triangle moment is gone, but you can still see Mercury close to Jupiter tonight, and together with Saturn they’ll still form a lop-sided triangle. 

As well as being a great chance to see a rare “triple conjunction” and Mercury—a planet few people ever see—it’s also your last chance to see Jupiter and Saturn in the post-sunset evening sky for many months.

Saturn will drop into the Sun’s glare and move behind it (its solar conjunction) on January 23, 2021 and Jupiter will do the same on January 28, 2021. However, by February 13, 2021 they will have both emerged from behind the Sun to form—you guessed it—another “triple conjunction” with Mercury, only this time in the pre-sunrise morning sky. 

Note: the exact positions of the planets are optimized for observers from North America, but aside from slight differences in the position of Mercury the same guidance applies to anywhere in mod-northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

Articles You May Like

NASA to conduct SLS static-fire test in mid-January
Walking in nature really can ease your mind, small study reveals
Facebook will block Trump from posting at least for the remainder of his term
China gears up for space station, cargo and crewed mission launches
Cryptocurrency market value surpasses $1 trillion for first time as bitcoin hits $37,700 record high

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *