A rare sighting of the “Christmas Star” is set to happen in the next couple of days.
“The ‘Christmas Star’ is not a star. It’s two of the brightest and the biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn. They look like they’re coming close to each other in our sky,” said Rick Gering, public outreach officer for the Naperville Astronomical Association. “Now that’s just an optical illusion because they’re still literally about half a billion miles apart between them. But they’re on similar lines of sight seen from Earth so they look like they’re almost going to touch. They’re just going to blur together as one with the combined brightness of both which is why it looks like a remarkably bright star.”
December 21 is the day the two planets will be closest together, known as the “Great Conjunction.” Only about one tenth of a degree will be between them from our line of sight on Earth.
How Can You See it?
The sighting is visible without binoculars or a telescope. The only time to see the “Christmas Star” effect is about an hour after sunset.
Look towards the southwest sky with an unobstructed view about 15 degrees from the horizon. Gering said as long as you look towards the southwest direction, they’ll be so bright you can’t miss it.
But if you don’t see it on December 21 or if it’s too cloudy that day, the planets will continue to be close to each other until December 29 and a bit into the New Year.
A Historic Event
This year’s conjunction is historic for two reasons. Even though Jupiter and Saturn reach conjunction every 20 years, the planets haven’t passed this close to each other in 400 years and haven’t been aligned at night since 1226.
LIVE: Our expert takes your questions about Saturn & Jupiter’s Great Conjunction happening on Dec. 21! On this episode of #NASAScience Live, we’ll talk about the science behind it, skywatching tips, and more.
Use #askNASA to join the conversation: https://t.co/Wd378Eu6Ux
— NASA (@NASA) December 17, 2020
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: NASA
If you have a story idea or news tip you want to share, we want to hear from you!