This Christmas will include a phenomenon that hasn’t occurred in nearly four centuries. On Monday night Saturn and Jupiter will align closely together to form The ‘Great Conjunction’, informally known as the “Christmas Star.” The “father of modern science” Galileo Galilei first witnessed this historical event in 1623.
“The event has been dubbed the “Christmas Star,” because some astronomers have theorized the “Star of Bethlehem” could have been a rare conjunction involving both Jupiter and Saturn,” according to NBC News.
Although Saturn and Jupiter align every 20 years, tonight will be the first time in almost 400 years where the two planets will be this extremely close to one another to where they can be seen with the naked eye.
Some twitter users are mystifying the occurrence of The ‘Great Conjunction‘ since it is happening on Dec.21st, the same day the winter solstice begins. This ‘Great Conjunction’ and winter solstice beginning simultaneously in 2020 is a simple coincidence, occurring because of the orbit of the planets and the Earth’s tilt.
“Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits,” said NASA Program Scientist Dr. Henry Throop. “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.”
To witness this possibly once in a lifetime event, NASA offers some helpful tips:
- Find a space with an open view of the sky, such as a field or park. The brightness from Jupiter and Saturn can be observed in most cities.
- Look at the southwestern sky.
- Binoculars or a small telescope can highlight the details of The ‘Great Conjunction’, enabling you to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the planet.