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The skies to offer a once in 800 year event just in time for Christmas



Credits: NASA/ Bill Ingalls

Skywatchers are in for a very rare event this week.

According to NASA, the “Christmas Star”, where the planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, will be at its best viewing on December 21.

“You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium,” said Henry Throop, astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21.”

NASA stated that the two planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system and aligning in the sky once every 20 years or so.

It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, according to NASA, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, which will be the case this week, allowing great viewing for nearly everyone in the world.

“Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits,” said Throop. “The date of the conjunction is determined by the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth in their paths around the Sun, while the date of the solstice is determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis. The solstice is the longest night of the year, so this rare coincidence will give people a great chance to go outside and see the solar system.”

NASA has released a guide for best viewing the rare phenomenon.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

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