December 21, 2020 just might be the day that launched a million new superheroes. A rare cosmic event known as the "Great Conjunction," in which the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn are expected to converge and appear in the sky as a double planet, will occur on Monday night. It's the first time in 800 years that this has happened in a way that much of the world will be able to see the spectacle, and it just happens to fall on the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. The coincidental nature of this occurrence has the internet buzzing, and some have decided that the situation is so rare that it just might result in Black people getting superpowers.
Yes, it sounds bizarre, but stick with us here.
What is the Great Conjunction?
The Great Conjunction is real, and will be most easily visible in the night's sky on Monday. That is when Saturn and Jupiter will come within 0.1 degrees of each other and create a bright and glowing double planet effect, which some people are referring to as a Christmas Star. The orbits of Jupiter and Saturn align about once every 20 years, as Jupiter circles the sun once every 12 years while Saturn takes 30 years to make a full orbit. But the planets have not come this close to one another in about 400 years.
What makes this particular instance of the Great Conjunction so exciting and extraordinary is the fact that it will actually be observable because it will happen at night. The last time that happened was 1226, according to NASA. Because of the timing, and the fact that it falls on the shortest day and longest night of the year, means that the bright light of the double planet event will be visible to most people across the world.
How to watch the Great Conjunction
To get a glimpse of the so-called Christmas Star, which will be bright enough to see even with the naked eye, you'll want to turn your attention to the sky around sunset. NASA recommends finding a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky like a field or a park. Don't worry too much about getting out of the city if that's where you call home, as the combination of the two planets should be bright enough to be seen even in dense urban environments where smog and light pollution can sometimes block the view of the stars.
You'll want to direct your attention to the southwestern corner of the sky, where you should be able to identify Jupiter relatively easily. NASA says that it will appear like a bright star. Saturn will be fainter and above Saturn, slightly to the left of the glowing planet. Around an hour after sunset, Jupiter's path should overtake Saturn's position. For that moment, low in the horizon, they should appear completely converged, creating an especially bright looking spot in the sky.
It'll be easier to see the stars with a telescope or binoculars, but that shouldn't be necessary. Just keep your eyes on the sky and you should spot it. If you need some help finding exactly where to look, try Google Sky. It can help you find where exactly the planets are in the sky.
So what's the deal with the super powers thing?
While the Great Conjunction is happening, and it is a rarity, it probably is not going to give you super powers. This meme that has been blowing up the internet for the last few days has been looped into the surprising occurrence of the Great Conjunction falling on the Winter Solstice, which, according to astrologer Chani Nicholas, will initiate a new 200-year era for humanity.
The origin of the superpower meme actually comes from a tweet that was sent on December 5 in a Twitter thread that largely circled around a conversation about the coronavirus vaccine. In a back and forth in which disproven theories were bandied about claiming the pandemic is a government conspiracy, one user posited that the vaccine is intended to alter the genetic code of Black people. Pressed on this theory, the user responded, "As black people, genetically we are stronger and smarter than everyone else, we are more creative, on December 21 our Real DNA will be unlocked and majority will be able to do things that we thought were fiction. Learn who u are as a people they wanna make us average."
That theory, pinpointing December 21 on the calendar, was the tweet that launched a thousand memes, as Black Twitter took to joking about what they will do when they wake up with super powers.
Some on Twitter have noted that their powers have not been granted yet. But perhaps it'll take the conjunction of the planets to finally activate them. Turn to the sky tonight to find out.