The “Christmas Star,” a rare celestial event that occurs when Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in the solar system, form what looks like a double planet, was one of the highlights of 2020.
True to form, 2021 promises to surpass that.
This weekend, Mercury will join the two gas giants in what is called a “triple conjunction” as the three planets will be within a few degrees of each other in the night sky.
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“From Friday evening to Monday evening, the planet Mercury will appear to pass first through Saturn, then through Jupiter as it moves away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before the end of evening twilight, “NASA wrote on its website.
According to Forbes, all three planets will be in the same two degrees of heaven in the constellation Capricorn.
EarthSky.org notes that sky watchers may need binoculars to catch some of the planets, but the event can be seen by first searching for Jupiter, then locating Saturn and Mercury. Jupiter will be the brightest of the trio.
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The science website adds that it’s best to “find a clear horizon in the direction of sunset” to see these planets, starting to stargaze at least 45 minutes after sunset.
Unlike the “Christmas star”, this triple conjunction of planets has occurred recently, last in October 2015. By comparison, Jupiter and Saturn form a double conjunction once every 20 years or so, although the the more recent event is the closer of the two. between them since 1226 AD
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After this weekend, the next time the trio form a triple conjunction is February 13, 2021, just before Valentine’s Day.
The following two triple conjunctions are scheduled for April 20, 2026 (Mercury, Mars, Saturn) and June 16, 2028, when Mercury, Venus and Mars make up the event.