The 2020 ‘Christmas Star,’ a first since the Middle Ages

The 2020 ‘Christmas Star,’ a first since the Middle Ages
A diagram shows how Jupiter and Saturn will align in a conjunction on Dec. 21. (Source: Rice University)

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Just after sunset each evening this December our solar system’s two largest planets appear to be getting closer to each other. On Monday, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer together than they have since the Middle Ages.

It’s called a Great Conjunction.

“Conjunction” is used by astronomers to describe when planets and/or other objects appear near each other in our sky. “Great Conjunction” describes when the two largest bodies in our solar system, the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, appear near each other.

This great conjunction is also known as the “Christmas Star”.

The two planets will appear closer to each other than at any time since 1623. The closest approach before that was in 1226. The next great conjunction will take place in March of 2080.

NASA reminds us while the two giants may appear close, they actually are hundreds of millions of miles apart.

The “bright star” is visible only briefly each evening, since both planets set shortly after sunset. Look above the western horizon after sunset for these bright, close planets.

The week before, Monday there was very little moonlight to interfere with viewing. A new moon on the Dec. 14 reaches its quarter crescent on Monday

For more viewing tips, use the earthsky.org article link below.

Monday, by coincidence, also is the Winter Solstice. After that, the two planets will each evening gradually appear farther away from each other.

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