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Winter Solstice to produce rare Christmas Star

December 21, 2020
Night sky photo
Night sky photo(Joshua Eckl)
Updated: Dec. 8, 2020 at 3:02 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - On December 21st, 2020 a rare event will occur in the southwest sky. Jupiter and Saturn will come within 0.1 degrees (or one-fifth the diameter of a full moon) of each other appearing as a single bright object. These two planets have not been this close together since 1623, back when Galileo was mapping out the night sky. During that time you would have not been able to see the event because it was too close to the sun.

The last time this event was visible to humans was on March 4th, 1226 back when Louis the VIII was King. That is almost 800 years ago. Although these are two planets, it is being dub the Christmas Star since it is occurring in the month of December on the Winter Solstice (December 21).

Astronomically this event is known as the “Great Conjunction”. It will be 60 years (2080) until these planets are this close together once again. So, if you have time make sure to get out on view this rare spectacle.

Viewing this event is not going to be easy for us in the northern latitudes because we will only have a short time see it before the two planets disappear below the horizon. Also weather conditions may create another problem, so fingers crossed for a clear night. To view the rare Christmas Star, look to the southwest sky as soon as the sun sets, which is roughly around 4:40 PM for Mankato, MN. Since there will be residual daylight, viewing of the event won’t be best until right around 5:20 to 5:30 pm. From there you will have a short window to see it just above the horizon before it is gone.

The Great Conjunction or Christmas Star event will occur on Winter Solstice (December 21), 2020.
The Great Conjunction or Christmas Star event will occur on Winter Solstice (December 21), 2020.(Sky Walk App)

The two planets will be the closest on December 21st, 2020, but all month long the planets will be getting closer and closer together. So, if you miss event on December 21st, when they are the closest, you can still see the two planets light up the southwest sky a week on either side of December 21st.

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