Solar system’s two largest planets come together to form ‘Christmas Star’ in UAE skies

Jupiter and Saturn came to near alignment as part of a celestial event known as The Great Conjunction

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The solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, came together on Monday night to form a ‘Christmas Star’ seen from the UAE and around the world.

Sky gazers in Dubai visited Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre in Mushrif Park to view the rare celestial event through telescopes. The phenomenon will not occur again until 2080.

It was the first time in 800 years that the two planets had come this close together after sunset. The last time they were in near alignment was 400 years ago, but it was during the day in most parts of the world.

Conjunctions happen every 20 years, but they rarely make such a close approach.

Maria Peshcherova, a Russian resident of Dubai, joined the crowd at the astronomy centre.

“The telescopes are so powerful, so we can see pretty clearly,” she said.

“[The planets] appeared as dots in the sky, but if you look at it through the telescopes, it’s amazing.”

A Dubai resident watches the celestial event through a telescope at Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre. Courtesy: Uzair Tahir

Imran Babar, an astronomy enthusiast in Dubai, described the event as an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime.

"It also shows us how insignificant we are in this whole universe and, overall, it’s a great learning and observation opportunity,” he said.

The planets could be spotted with the naked eye after sunset and at their closest alignment appeared just a 10th of a degree apart.

Hasan Al Hariri, chief executive of Dubai Astronomy Group, said Jupiter and Saturn could be seen together through a single lens of a telescope.

“This is one of those events people are interested in because it doesn’t happen very frequently,” he said.

The planets' near alignment inspired many astronomers to call the celestial event the "Christmas Star", as two of the largest planets shone bright together and appeared to form a single entity.

In the nativity story, the Christmas Star, also known as the Star of Bethlehem, led three wise men to the baby Jesus.

US space agency Nasa described the visibility of the planetary conjunction as “merely a coincidence” based on the planets’ orbits and tilt of the Earth.