Get ready for a free show around Christmas, courtesy of the solar system.
Just after sunset on Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to meet and create one large star — referred to as the “Christmas Star” or “Star of Bethlehem” because of its proximity to Christmas.
This doesn’t happen often. Though the two planets align about every 20 years, this occurrence is rare because of how close they will be to one another. (They’re actually 450 million miles apart.) The last time the so-called “Great Conjunction” happened was in 1623 but it could not be seen from Earth. The last time it was visible: March 4, 1226.
Not even Betty White was alive then.
For the best view, turn toward the southwest sky — and pray for clear weather, of course. People will be able to view the sight for about an hour after sunset. You won’t need binoculars. The closer you are to the equator, the more time you’ll have to catch a glimpse before they slip below the horizon. According to reports, the planets will be closest to each other on Dec. 21 but will be adjacent and visible during the rest of the week.
And if you miss it, don’t worry — you’ll have another chance on March 15, 2080. And after that the next one will be in the year 2400.
NASA offers some viewing tips here, and offers tips on photographing the phenomenon here.
Check out the Champaign-Urbana area’s internationally renown Dark Sky Park | Mom Review: The Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College