When, What & How you will be able to see the Christmas Star in South Africa
We are all familiar with the infamous ‘Christmas Star’ that led the Three Wiseman to the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth on Christmas Day. This December, South Africans will be able to observe this rare sight again for the first time in 800 years. Although it is often referred to as a star, it is not an actual star.
Astronomers define this phenomenon as a Conjunction, a conjunction is when two objects appear close to each other in the sky. However, this conjunction is known as the Great Conjunction. “It is when the solar system’s gas giants – Jupiter and Saturn – are close to Earth and each other.” said Daniel Cunnama, South African Astronomical Observatory astronomer when he spoke to Business Insider SA.
The last time the phenomenon was visible from Earth (1226 AD), this year, unlike in 1623 AD where the two planets were not visible to the naked eye from Earth because they were too close to the sun. This year, the two planets are so close to Earth that you can see them with the naked eye.
What you will be able to see, and When you should be able to see it?
The 2020 great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will occur at about 20:20 SAST on December 21. Cunnama says that with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, it will be possible to observe the rings on Saturn and some of the moons that orbit Jupiter. The two planets are an impressive sight and will be easy to find after sunset. Look toward the west, because the planets will be visible from this direction in the Southern Hemisphere.
“The two planets are completely merged together on our Night Sky Map for this date, although a careful observer should be able to separate them in the sky with the naked eye.” says Graham Jones, Astrophysicist & Science Communicator. According to Jones, Jupiter and Saturn will be separated by 0.1 degrees hence why they may appear as a single bright star.
How bright will it be?
“Don’t expect anything crazy. It won’t be as bright as the Moon. It will be a treat to look at, but don’t expect some enormously bright beacon in the sky,” David Weigel, the planetarium director for the INTUITIVE Planetarium at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It will probably look like a very bright, motionless airplane.
When Will the Next Great Conjunctions Take Place?
Jones says the next great conjunctions after 2020 will occur on November 2, 2040 and April 7, 2060, but on both these occasions, the minimum separation of Jupiter and Saturn will be 1.1 degrees—which means they will be eleven times farther apart than on December 21, 2020.
“There are only six great conjunctions where the minimum separation between Jupiter and Saturn is less than 0.2 degrees: 1623, 1683, 2020, 2080, 2417, and 2477.” says Jones.
Jones, G. (2020, December 14). Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn 2020 Time Zone Converter . Retrieved from timeanddate: https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/fixedtime.html?msg=Great+Conjunction+of+Jupiter+and+Saturn+2020&iso=20201221T1820&p1=1440
Jones, G. (2020). The December 2020 Great Conjunction. Retrieved from timeanddate.com : https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/planets/great-conjunction
Moraitis, M. (2020, December 11). Christmas Star 2020 | What you’ll really see on December 21. Retrieved from WFMY News 2 : https://www.wfmynews2.com/article/tech/science/science-behind-christmas-star-december-21-2020-saturn-jupiter-conjunction/83-d2b85510-e848-4d0f-81ff-650581b0e6f3
Wild, S. (2020, December 13). This is when and how you can see the rare ‘Christmas Star’ in South Africa. Retrieved from Business Insider South Africa : https://www.businessinsider.co.za/christmas-star-astronomy-jupiter-saturn-great-conjunction-2020-12