Tonight, December 21st, we will get to see something that hasn't happened in a while.  In fact, the last time this happened Christopher Columbus was still 200 years from being born and the signing of our Declaration of Independence wouldn't happen for another 550 years.

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It's being called the 'Christmas Star', or as an astronomical event referred to as a great conjunction.  Jupiter and Saturn will be appearing in the Monday evening sky as almost one celestial body.  This great conjunction is actually not that rare, happening once every 20 years or so, but the last time these two planets appeared this close together to a viewer from Earth took place around 400 years ago, however, optimal viewing for that happened during the day.  This will be the first time in 800 years that they have been this close for viewing at night.

Thankfully, the forecast for tonight's rarity is great.  The National Weather Service is forecasting mostly clear skies with up to about 15% of the night sky covered with clouds.  So, here's what you need to know about viewing tonight's convergence according to NASA's website:

  • Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
  • An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
  • The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.

Happy viewing and Merry Christmas!

 

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