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Environment & Climate Change

Jupiter, Saturn will offer rare celestial treat just in time for Christmas

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NASA HQ PHOTO
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Flickr

Sky watchers will get a rare holiday gift this year.

On Monday evening, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to be nearly on top of each other as the two largest planets in our solar system reach their closest point to each other in nearly 800 years.

The “Great Conjunction,” as astronomers call it, will coincide with the winter solstice.

Shannon Schmoll is director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. She says if weather permits, you can see the event in the southwest from now through Monday.

“All you need to do is go outside and look in the southwest right after sunset and you’ll be able to watch Jupiter and Saturn over the course of the next several days pass each other. So, don’t just go out on Monday. Try to go out as much as you can as long as it’s clear.”

The “Great Conjunction” will peak on Monday evening.

“The only thing that will be brighter than Jupiter will be the moon. So, look for the brightest thing in the sky as the sun is setting and that will be Jupiter, and then Saturn will be just to the upper left of it now and it will move to the lower right as we pass the conjunction,” said Schmoll.

The “Great Conjunction” will peak on Monday evening.

Jupiter and Saturn form a conjunction about every 20 years when their orbits appear to align in the sky.

Schmoll says some astronomers speculate it may have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, or possibly Jupiter and Venus that formed the storied “Star of Bethlehem” that heralded the birth of Jesus.

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