The Christmas Star
Tonight's the night! The Christmas Star is here and will be at its most brilliant this evening. (It seems fitting that this should occur on the solstice - the longest night of the year.)
It's actually not a star at all, but Jupiter and Saturn pairing up to light the sky as if they were a single mega-star. A "Great Conjunction." It's an illusion, of course, but from earth it'll look like they're right next to each other. Put two celestial giants together and you get something big and bright.
You'll be able to see it with the naked eye even if you live in a populated area. Dark sky reserve not required.
Whether or not you're into astrophotography, this will be a treat; it isn't something that happens every day. Or year. Or decade. Or lifetime. In fact, it's been nearly 800 years since a Great Conjunction like this one - happening at night and this near to earth - has been visible to sky watchers (it was March of 1226). 800 years. And you'll have to wait 60 years for the next extra-close one.
So as far as Great Conjunctions go, this one is a big deal. Hope for clear skies.
Some astronomers have theorized that the Star of Bethlehem referenced in the Gospel of St. Matthew might have been a Great Conjunction. Several occurred around the time of the birth of Christ.
Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright...
Since this event happens to be taking place during the holiday week, the "Christmas Star" moniker is appropriate. Wonderful, actually. And after the way this year has played out, a little bit of extra sparkle from up above is more than welcome. Transparent TreesThe Magic of Christmas at Butchart Gardens (Victoria, British Columbia)
To see it, you'll need an unobstructed view of the southwestern sky. About 45 minutes after sunset you should be able to find Jupiter and Saturn hanging out together low in the sky; they'll be visible for about an hour until they set.
As an added bonus, you may be treated to a few shooting stars courtesy of the Ursids meteor shower tonight and into the wee hours tomorrow morning (though you'll probably need to get away from light pollution to see those).
So whether or not you're going to pull out the camera gear, why not kick off Christmas Week with a little star gazing? After tonight, every time you look at a star shining from the top of a Christmas tree you can remember the time you got to see the real deal.
Don't miss it! Take some time this evening to look up!
(If Mother Nature isn't cooperating and you're socked in with cloud cover today, you're not out of luck. Jupiter and Saturn will remain close to one another for the next few days. Still worth seeing even if not quite as brilliant as this evening. Try again when the overcast lifts.)
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