Skywatchers are in for a special surprise this holiday season!
According to NASA, a rare celestial event is making an already unique holiday season even more unusual as our solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn will come together on December 21 for a planetary conjunction popularly called the “Christmas Star.”
It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night.
The fact that this event is happening during the winter solstice is pure coincidence, according to NASA.
“It’s a sense of anticipation, which of course, is what Christmas is all about, that waiting. And here we’re waiting for those planets to almost merge in the sky,” said Canadian astronomer and physicist Brian Martin, a professor emeritus at King’s University, a Christian institution in Edmonton.
“It captures the sense of what it’s like to be waiting for the birth of Christ and to celebrate that on the 25th of December.”
For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s how to watch:
Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park.
An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.