Last year we saw the “Great Conjunction” when the two planets Jupiter and Saturn were so closely aligned that they looked like one bright star in the night sky. This weekend, they will be joined by Mercury to form what is being called the “Triple Conjunction.”
The Great Conjunction, a side by side alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, coincided with the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2020. NASA reported that this alignment of the two planets happened for the first time in centuries.
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The Triple Conjunction will occur when Jupiter Saturn and Mercury come into alignment this weekend on January 9 and 10 2021. It will be visible in the southwestern sky. You won’t need a fancy telescope as people will be able to see this with the aid of a mere pair of binoculars.
Space.Com explains exactly how to see it:
“After sunset, look just above the southwestern horizon after sunset on Saturday, January 9 to see Mercury sitting just a thumb’s width to the lower left (or 1.7 degrees to the celestial south) of Saturn—with brighter Jupiter positioned above them. All three objects will fit within the field of view of binoculars (red circle). The orbital motion (red arc) of Mercury will be carrying the speedy planet between Earth and the sun, while the gas giants will be on the far side of our star.”
NASA said that “From Friday evening to Monday evening, the planet Mercury will appear to pass first by Saturn and then by Jupiter as it shifts away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before evening twilight ends.”
But that’s not all you will be able to see in the sky this month. Monday morning, Jan. 11, 2021 you might be able to see the bright planet Venus near the thin, waning crescent Moon, says NASA. Venus will rise after the Moon (at 6:16 a.m. EST). Morning twilight begins 8 minutes later (at 6:24 a.m. EST), with the Moon appearing only about 2 degrees above the horizon and Venus about 5 degrees to the lower left. They will shift higher in the sky but also become more difficult to see as the sky brightens with the dawn.
Then on Monday evening, the planet Mercury will appear to pass first by Saturn and then by Jupiter as it shifts away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before evening twilight ends.
And Saturday evening January 23, 2021, the planet Mercury will reach its greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from the Earth for this apparition (called greatest eastern elongation), appearing half-lit through a large enough telescope. Because the angle of the line between the Sun and Mercury and the horizon changes over time, when Mercury and the Sun appear farthest apart as seen from the Earth is not the same as when Mercury appears highest above the horizon in the west-southwest as evening twilight ends. This occurs the next evening.
Sunday evening will be when the planet Mercury will appear at its highest above the horizon (5 degrees) at the time evening twilight ends (at 6:22 p.m. EST).