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'Christmas Star': Jupiter, Saturn will be closest they've been in centuries Monday

Kansas Daily Life
Posted at 8:18 AM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 13:11:05-05

You’ll want to look up at the night sky Monday, because the much-anticipated “Christmas Star” is set to be at its brightest.

The “Christmas Star” in a nickname that’s been given to the astronomical event when Jupiter and Saturn will get so close together, they’ll be especially vibrant and visible to the naked eye.

During this “Great Conjunction,” the two planets will be the closest they’ve been to each other in nearly 400 years and it’s been about 800 years since the alignment occurred at night, allowing everyone around the world to witness it.

Monday night, NASA says Jupiter and Saturn will appear so close that a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky.

Those trying to catch a glimpse of the conjunction are encouraged to look toward the southwest sky just after sunset. NASA says you should find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, like a field or park. The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you use binoculars or a telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons.

Though from our vantage point, the planets will appear very close together, NASA says they’ll actually remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. The conjunction is also happening on the same day as the winter solstice, but the timing is merely a coincidence.

“Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits,” said Henry Throop, astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The date of the conjunction is determined by the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth in their paths around the Sun, while the date of the solstice is determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis. The solstice is the longest night of the year, so this rare coincidence will give people a great chance to go outside and see the solar system.”