Here’s the story behind ‘The Great Conjunction,’ a rare celestial sensation

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A rare, celestial event will be taking place in the evening sky on December 21st (which happens to coincide with the Winter Solstice) that you won’t want to miss: The Great Conjunction. This has also been referred to as the Christmas Star or the Star of Bethlehem.

You may have noticed that over the Summer Jupiter and Saturn have been getting closer and closer together in the nighttime sky. Jupiter appears brightest with Saturn fainter and slightly above and to the left of Jupiter.

On Monday, Jupiter will overtake Saturn and swap places. The two planets will look like a very bright star in the evening sky. They will be separated by only 1/5th the diameter of the full moon.

The conjunction of these planets happens about every 20 years. But this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another. In fact, you must go all the way back to March 4, 1226 to see a closer alignment visible in the night sky!

To provide a bit more perspective on how rare this is… Between year 0 and 3000, there were or will be only seven conjunctions closer than this one, and two of those were too close to the sun to be seen without a telescope.

We are hoping for clear skies to view this, which can be seen by the naked eye. And good news! FOX4 Weather is calling for mostly clear skies and unseasonably warm conditions for the 21st. But if you happen to have a pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to distinguish the planets. And for those that have a telescope, you will be able to see the rings on Saturn as well as the brightest moons of each planet.

The best time to view this for the U.S. will be in the early evening, between 5pm and 6pm, in the Southwestern sky. Once the skies go dark, the planets will be too close to the horizon for viewing.

Now if you miss this conjunction, you will have to wait until March 15th, 2080 to see the planets with the same proximity (and it will be higher in the sky). After that, they won’t appear this close again until after 2400. 

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