Christmas Star Thrills Celestial Watchers

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Fenton, MI — December 21, 2020

An incredible event took place in the night sky last evening. A phenomenon known as the Christmas Star or Star of Bethlehem appeared for the first time in almost 800 years. The celestial display is termed the great conjunction and is created by the planets of Saturn and Jupiter being in close visual proximity to each other.

Actually, the two orbs cross every 20 years. The nocturnal appearance depends on the position of the Sun, Earth, and the two planets. A close intersection occurred in July 1623, it’s unlikely many people noticed as the sun interfered with the view from earth. The distance between Saturn and Jupiter is the closest visible sighting since 1226.

As the two largest planets in our solar system, both Saturn and Jupiter are generally visible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, those of us who live in Michigan were denied the display by a heavy cloud cover accompanied by rain and snow flurries last evening.

Pictures

No worries, we have scoured the internet for some pictures of the merging planets.

Naked Eye View (upper right), april.reppucci, Instagram
Enhanced View. Photo Courtesy of Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images
Magnified View. Photo Credit Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images

The converging planets can be seen in close proximity for the next week. Here is NASA’s recommendation for catching a glimpse of the scene. Of course, binoculars or a telescope will enhance your view, if the December clouds will cooperate.

  • Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
  • 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.
Courtesy of NASA