SCIENCE

Nearly 400 years in the making, ‘Christmas Star’ visible tonight

Dec 21, 2020, 9:56 AM
Christmas star...
The two largest planets in our solar system are coming closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages, and it's happening just in time for Christmas -- hence the nickname of the "Christmas Star." (PHOTO: NASA)
(PHOTO: NASA)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Stargazers have something to look at tonight that hasn’t been visible in nearly 400 years. What’s being called the ‘Christmas Star’ is really a conjunction of two planets.

‘Christmas Star’ is a rarity

Patrick Wiggins, NASA’s solar system ambassador to Utah, better explains the astronomical rarity.

“Two planets, a rather bright one, Jupiter, and a much fainter one, Saturn, are getting very close together in the sky,” he explains.

In fact, it’s been possible to track the two planets inching closer for months now.

On Monday, December 21, they will appear closer together than they have in nearly 400 years.

“The last time was 1623,” explains Wiggins. “Even that time, it was so close to the sun that I don’t think anyone saw it.” 

What to expect

He says the coincidence that this event is happening so close to Christmas is, just that, a coincidence. Additionally, he’s quick to caution that while it’s a rare event, it isn’t necessarily the flashiest occurrence.

“It’s a rare event. I’ve been cautioning people, don’t expect a really flashy event. It’s going to be fairly bright, but it’s not going to be like what people think of in Biblical terms,” he explains.

Nonetheless, astronomers are encouraging families to get outside and view something that is almost 400 years in the making.

For those looking to the sky locally, Wiggins says the conjunction will occur southwest. He mentions that it may be tricky for those who are near western mountains, because the ‘Christmas Star’ will be low along the horizon.

If you can’t make it out tonight, the next conjunction of these planets will be about 60 years from now, meaning some people could see it twice in their lifetime.

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Nearly 400 years in the making, ‘Christmas Star’ visible tonight