Christmas star to shine for the first time in 800 years

Shining star in the dark blue night sky, illustration.

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Shining star in the dark blue night sky, illustration.


As the year 2020 comes to an end,  we are all looking forward to the holidays. And this year we get to witness a special and historic astronomical event that hasn’t happened in nearly 800 years. This occurrence is widely known as “The Christmas Star” or “The Star of Bethlehem”. 

In the scientific world, the event  is known as The Great Conjunction, and it isn’t actually a real star at all. In reality, it is the two largest planets in our solar system getting so close together they form a light so bright it looks like a giant star.  During this event, Jupiter and Saturn will be just a 10th of a degree apart at their closest, but in reality they will be 400 million miles away from each other.

“One thing to keep in mind, they appear to be next to each other, from our perspective on earth,” GHS Astronomy Teacher Matthew Anderson said. “As they go around in orbit they are miles apart. Jupiter is following Saturn, they both are orbiting the sun. Jupiter is moving faster than Saturn, and will check up to it. Jupiter laps Saturn every 20 years. This time it is really unique because it is a close passing.”

The last time the two were this close was in 1623, though it was too close the sun to be visible. 

Nearly 800 years ago was the last time these planets were this close together and visible from Earth. In the year 1226, well before telescopes were invented, records show that it was visible at that time. 

Stargazers should not worry about having a telescope or any other special equipment, as you will be able to see the “star” with the naked eye. But if you do happen to have a telescope or binoculars, they will only enhance your viewing of this spectacular phenomenon.

In order to see the Christmas Star, just look to the lower southwest sky after sunset on December 21st. The planets will drop below the horizon at 7:00pm, so viewers should get out right after sunset to have the best chance at seeing them.