REGIONAL— The solar system is looking to make up for a pretty dismal 2020 with a light show not seen from Earth in nearly 800 years, and it will be briefly visible in northern Minnesota …
REGIONAL— The solar system is looking to make up for a pretty dismal 2020 with a light show not seen from Earth in nearly 800 years, and it will be briefly visible in northern Minnesota assuming clouds don’t get in the way.
The solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will make the closest approach in centuries on the winter solstice, Dec. 21. The rare planetary conjunction, which hasn’t been this close since 1226, is being called a Christmas star, because it will be unusually bright and the planets will appear so close that they will seem nearly one to the naked eye. A similar conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and the bright star Regulus in 2 B.C. is believed to have created the Nativity star as described in the Bible.
The planets will increasingly align by the middle of the month and will be worth watching nightly from Dec. 16-23, with Dec. 20-21 being the best nights should the skies be clear. The planets will be visible just after sunset, low in the southwest sky, so find a location with a clear view in that direction to see this rare event. On Dec. 16, a very thin sliver of the moon will also be visible above the horizon, just below the two planets, creating a spectacular scene.
The two planets will still remain hundreds of millions of miles apart during their conjunction, as Saturn is located much farther away than Jupiter. The planets only appear to align from our vantage point here on Earth. Jupiter, as usual, will appear much brighter, both because it is the largest planet in our solar system and because it is significantly closer to Earth.
A small telescope or a good pair of binoculars will help you get a better look at the two planets, and you can even see a few of Jupiter’s moons with just binoculars.
Just be sure to look before Christmas. By then, the two planets will slip too low in the late afternoon sky to be visible. They’ll soon make their appearance once again in our morning sky as they continue on their paths around the sun.