January 9-10: See Rare Triple Conjunction This Weekend

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Triple Conjunction of Venus-Jupiter-Mercury on May 28, 2013. looyaa/Flickr

December 21st of 2020 witnessed the great conjunction of planets Jupiter and Saturn. This year skywatchers will be able to see rare three-planet conjunction of planets Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn. This rare alignment of planets will occur from January 8 to 12.

 

What is a Triple Conjunction:

A triple conjunction is the celestial meeting of three planets. In this case, the three planets Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn will fall within a circle of diameter less than 5-degrees. Saturn will lie two degrees to Mercury’s right and Jupiter, two degrees above them.

After the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, the two planets have been slowly drifting apart. But before they can drift too far apart, they will be joined by Mercury forming a planetary triangle. Triple conjunction is extremely rare. The last triple conjunction occurred in October 2015. The next one will occur on February 13 when Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter meet. After that, the occurrence of another triple conjunction will not happen until April 2026.

When is the Triple Conjunction:

All three planets will appear within the field of view of binoculars from January 8 to 12 and will appear the closest on January 10.

Be sure to watch on all days as the alignment of the three planets will change considerably on each day. This is because Mercury moves relatively faster compared to the slow-moving Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter takes nearly 12 years to orbit the sun, Saturn around 29 years, while Mercury takes just 88 days. You will be able to see the pattern changing from a stretched-out triangle to an almost equilateral triangle with Jupiter on top and Mercury and Saturn forming the bases.

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Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury will fit in the field of view of binocular (red circle). (Image credit: Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

How to Watch the Triple Conjunction:

 

To obtain a good view use binoculars or a small telescope. It would be easy to view the brighter Jupiter without a telescope and possibly the medium-bright Mercury as well. However, viewing the dimmer yellow-white Saturn, especially in the twilight, will require a good optical aid.

The three planets will appear quite low on the southwest horizon, so be sure to find a place with a good view. The triple conjunction takes place 30 – 45 minutes after sunset. You need to be vigilant to view this event as Jupiter and Saturn will soon sink below the horizon, while Mercury will continue to climb higher in the sky.

Triple Conjunction of Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn

What: Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear together and fit inside a circle of diameter 5-degrees.

Where: Low on the Southwest horizon. A good view of the event can be obtained using binoculars or a small telescope.

When: January 8 to 12, with the closest on January 10. Look up after sunset and before the planets setting time. The planets set around 6:00 p.m depending on your location.

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