Tonight, Jupiter and Saturn Will Align to Create the First "Christmas Star" in Nearly 800 Years
Towards the end of 2020, the solar system decided to adorn us with a cosmic Christmas miracle that has not been observed for almost 800 years. On December 21st (also known as the December solstice), Jupiter and Saturn will align themselves so closely to the night sky that they will almost appear as if they are colliding from where we are here on earth, creating a brilliant point of light that often does as the "Star of Bethlehem" or the "Christmas Star".
"You would have to go back to just before sunrise on March 4, 1226 to see closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky."
"Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring about every 20 years. However, this connection is exceptionally rare because the planets appear to be close together," said Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University after Forbes. "You would have to go back to just before sunrise on March 4, 1226 to see closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky."
The event, sometimes referred to as the great conjunction, occurs roughly every 19 to 20 years, but this is the event that the planets will be closest to the night sky since the Middle Ages. Technically, Saturn will be 10 Au (astronomical units) from Earth, and Jupiter will be 5 Au away, but they appear to be smaller than the diameter of a full moon.
To get an impression of the phenomenon for yourself, make sure you have a clear view to the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset. The planets will be closest on December 21, but the "poinsettia" will be visible from anywhere on earth for about an hour after sunset in the northern hemisphere for the entire fourth week of December. If you look through a telescope, you may also be able to see the largest moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which are orbiting them this week. The next major conjunction in this vicinity won't take place until March 15, 2080. So take a look out the window later this month for a brilliant vacation treat.
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