by Elizabeth Gamillo/Smithsonianmag.com
Early Tuesday morning, an extraordinary site began to unfold in the dark sky visible to the naked eye. Three planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury, aligned their orbits, creating the optical effect of appearing side by side, reports Passant Rabie for Inverse. The “planetary trio” will also be in conjunction with a waning crescent moon for three successive mornings until Thursday, March 11, reports Jamie Carter for Forbes. The alignment gives us a rare peek at Mercury.
Planetary conjunction occurs when multiple planetary orbits line up. Though it appears as if they are next to each other in the sky, the distance between the planets remains the same, reports Megan Marples and Ashley Strickland for CNN. These rare events often happen many years apart. Jupiter and Saturn are in conjunction once every 20 years, NASA reports in a statement. In December 2020, Jupiter and Saturn appeared so close to each other that they resembled a giant star in the sky in what’s known as the “Great Conjunction,” Inverse reports. The last time this happened was 400 years ago.