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Christmas Star visible on Dec. 21

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A rare event called the Christmas Star will be visible Monday, Dec. 21, on the winter solstice.

Jupiter and Saturn will be less than 0.2 degrees apart. They are currently about 2 degrees apart. A great conjunction is when two or more celestial bodies are two degrees or less apart. On Dec. 21, they will be less than 0.1 degrees apart. This makes for a bright star and is, therefore, called the Christmas Star.

A little history

Jupiter and Saturn come together about every 20 years. However, to be less than 0.2 degrees apart is very rare. The last time they were this close was on July 6, 1623, but it was only 13 degrees from the sun and unobservable. The last observable great conjunction this close was in 1226, in medieval times, 266 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The next great conjunction will be on Nov. 2, 2080.

Finding and viewing 

On Dec. 21, the shortest daylight of the year, sunset will be at 4:42 p.m. Civil twilight is when the brightest star appears in the sky. This will happen at 5:22 p.m. Jupiter and Saturn will be near each other at this time. Nautical Twilight is a term for when all the stars are out and this will happen at 6 p.m. Jupiter and Saturn will appear as one star and will be located about 15 to 20 degrees above the horizon in the southwest. It will be the brightest star looking object in the sky. These planets will set around 7 p.m.

Also, on Dec. 16, if people look to the southwest for a two-day old very slim crescent moon, Jupiter and Saturn will be just above it. They should be visible about 5:01 p.m.

— Joe Witherspoon, Director Cottontail Observatory

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