Watch out: Jupiter and Saturn line up in the sky tonight
Tonight’s sky will provide a Christmas celebration with celestial delights for the stars, with a planetary conjunction described as a “Christmas star” and a meteor shower.
The events not only coincide with the first quarter of the month, but there should be a lot of dark hours for observing the stars, because it is also the winter solstice.
Sky observers should be able to see a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn and possibly meteors from the Ursid meteor shower.
Every two decades, the two largest planets in our solar system appear to meet in the Earth’s sky, in what is known as the “Great Conjunction.”
Some experts have suggested that the bright light of the conjunction may be behind the biblical story of the Star of Bethlehem.
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Weather permitting, Jupiter and Saturn will look like two shining stars, almost touching each other, as seen by the human eye.
Dr. William Teets, director of the Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University, writes in the Conversation: “If you have a pair of binoculars, you will be able to easily observe both planets. Even with a small telescope, you will see both planets at the same time in the same field of view, which is really unheard of.
“It simply came to our notice then. Jupiter and Saturn appear to meet about every 20 years. However, most of the time they are not nearly as close. “
This year, the conjunction will be much closer than usual: the two gas giants will be only 0.1 degrees (1/5 of the diameter of the full moon).
It is the closest of the two planets to each other in the sky since the Great Conjunction of 1623.
The Ursid meteor shower will also be visible: it is expected to touch a bit during the night of December 21 and will be visible until the early morning of December 22.
This celestial display is associated with Comet 8P / Tuttle, also known as Comet Tuttle, which orbits the Sun every 13 years.
The Royal Observatory Greenwich writes: “Ursid meteor shower is usually rare, producing around five meteors per hour at peak. The moon will be in the first quarter during this year’s shower peak, so at least the moonlight will not hide your view of the night sky.
“Bear cubs appear to radiate from Beta Ursae Minoris (Kochab) in the constellation Ursa Minor.
“However, the real source of shooting stars is a stream of debris left behind by comet 8P / Tuttle.”
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A telescope under high magnification will reveal the belts of Jupiter’s clouds and Saturn’s rings, as well as some of their moons, all at the same time.
The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, will cover the Great Conjunction with a free interactive live streaming program on YouTube.
To see it from the UK, you may have to wait until the sun goes down, experts warn Sky At Night.
Jamie Carter of Sky at Night writes: “The main event will have Jupiter and Saturn separated by only 0.06” – 6 arcseconds – at 13:30, universal time, Monday, December 21, 2020. It’s 13: 30 GMT, so during the day in the UK.
“The sunset will take place at 15:53 in London, at 16:06 in Cardiff, at 15:59 in Belfast and at 15:39 in Edinburgh. About 45 minutes after sunset, observers should look 10 ° above the south-southwest horizon to see Jupiter and Saturn shining almost like one. “
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