MERCURY will come close to Jupiter and Saturn in the sky this evening as the three planets form a rare conjunction.
Stargazers should be able to spot the celestial event from this evening until January 11.
Jupiter and Saturn recently made their closest approach in DecemberCredit: EPA
Nasa said: “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.”
You should look towards the Capricorn constellation to try and spot the planets at twilight over the next few days.
Night sky scanning apps can be useful to download if you need to be pointed in the right direction of a constellation.
Some of the apps can even point out planets to you.
You’ll need to look low on the horizon to see the planetsCredit: Alamy Live News
However, stargazing is best when you’re in a very dark location and looking at your phone screen can affect your ability to adjust your eyes to the dark.
You may need binoculars to see all three planets.
Jupiter will be the brightest so if you spot that first you should find the other two nearby.
Around 45 minutes after sunset is probably the best time to look for the planets low down on the west-southwest horizon.
You’re also better going to somewhere that has an unobstructed horizon view if you can.
Bear in mind that Saturn will stay below the big bright Jupiter for the conjunction but Mercury will progressively appear higher as the nights continue.
Cloudy skies may ruin your chances of spotting the celestial trio.
The last time this conjunction happened was in October 2015.
Saturn’s rings – what are they, and how did they form?
Here’s what you need to know…
- The rings of Saturn are mostly made of water ice particles, as well as some rock debris and dust
- It’s the most extensive ring system of any planet in our Solar System
- The dense main rings extend from 4,300 miles away to 50,000 miles away from Saturn’s equator
- They have an estimated local thickness that ranges from 10 metres to 1 kilometre
- The rings are caught in a balancing act around the planet
- Gravity is drawing them inwards, but the speed of their orbit wants to fling them out to space
- But latest research suggests gravity is winning, with Saturn’s rings expected to disappear within 100million and 300million years
- Scientists are divided on exactly how the rings of Saturn formed
- One theory is that small, icy moons orbiting Saturn collided, smashing up into bits and creating rings
- It’s also possible these icy moons were struck by large comets or asteroids, or were broken apart by gravity
- The second popular theory is that the rings were never part of a moon, but leftover material from the formation of Saturn
In other space news, stunning new images of the largest canyon in our Solar System have been taken by a Nasa probe on Mars.
Uranus, Mars and the Moon will make a pretty close approach later this month.
And, four Supermoons will be gracing the night sky in 2021.
Will you be stargazing this weekend? Let us know in the comments…
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