Unique planetary phenomenon becomes fully visible Dec. 21
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
For the first time since the Middle Ages, a unique merging of the planets Jupiter and Saturn will happen during the winter solstice on Monday, Dec. 21. Due to its coincidental timing, the astronomical event is being called “The Christmas Star.”
Known as a “Great Conjunction,” the phenomenon last happened in the 1600s when Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei charted the passing of Jupiter across Saturn as they traveled together in the night sky.
While the two planets align every 20 years, it’s been 400 years since the two planets passed this close to each other, and nearly 800 years since the two planets aligned at night. According to astronomer Patrick Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University in Houston, the last time the alignment has been this visibly clear was March 4, 1226.
Interested stargazers will be able to view this once in a lifetime event by looking southwest just after sunset. While the best viewing will be seen through a telescope or binoculars, the two planets (and possibly Jupiter’s four largest moons) can also be easily seen by the naked eye.
The alignment begins on Wednesday, Dec, 16 and continues through Friday, Dec. 25.