‘Christmas Star’ to light up December sky for first time in hundreds of years

Ursids meteor shower to peak too
Saturn/Jupiter conjunction to occur at the winter solstice
Posted at 4:42 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 10:20:07-05

During the upcoming winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn will line up to create what is known as the “Christmas Star” or “Star of Bethlehem.”

Once every 20 years, Jupiter and Saturn nearly cross paths in the sky, and this year, the two largest planets in the solar system will cross paths during the winter solstice.

According to EarthSky, the two planets will be just .1 degree apart at their closest point on December 21. Being so close, the two planets will appear to be roughly the same size as one-fifth a full moon.

According to EarthSky, the December 2020 conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is the closest the two planets have been to each other in the night sky since 1623.

However, people back then were not able to see the celestial event, because of its proximity to the sun, according to Amy Oliver, a spokeswoman for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Oliver told The Boston Globe that the last time people would have noticed two planets coming together this closely would have been in 1226, during the Middle Ages, nearly 800 years ago.

Scientists say the two planets will appear in the early evening sky for the rest of 2020 and Jupiter will be the brightest object in the western sky for the rest of the year.

Ursids meteor shower will peak Monday night too:

Stargazers are in for a doubleheader Monday night.

In 2020's last meteor shower of the year, the Ursids will peak later Monday night into the early hours of Tuesday morning. The American Meteor Society (AMS) says that this particular meteor shower is "often neglected due to the fact it peaks just before Christmas and the rates are much less than the Geminds, which peaks just a week before the Ursids."

Still, the AMS says stargazers could be treated to 5-10 Ursids per hour during the late morning hours on the date of maximum activity. There have been occasional outbursts when rates have exceeded 25 per hour.

The AMS says the best way to view this activity is to face toward the northern half of the sky, not directly straight up at the sky, around 12:30 a.m. EST.

How to see the 'Christmas Star':

NASA has shared tips with how to view the celestial event and said it should be visible to any one in the U.S. with a clear view of the horizon.

“In order to find the planets in the sky, it’s really easy if you just look up. If you can see the sunset – that means you are looking to the west, the southwest if you are in the northern hemisphere – then you’ll be able to see Saturn and Jupiter. You want to go outside maybe 45 minutes after sunset. Let the sky darken a little bit. You don’t have to wait until night time. And then look toward the sunset,” said Henry Throop, an astronomer at NASA headquarters. “You’ll have about an hour of time where you can observe Saturn and Jupiter.”

If you plan on going out to get pictures of the once-in-a-lifetime event, NASA has created a guide.