Christmas Star: Jupiter and Saturn convergence is the closest in 800 years


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The last time these two planets came this close was about 800 years ago.

“We looked it up,” said Steve Fentress, Director of the Strassenbuurg Planetarium at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. “March 4, 1226.”

This phenomenon specifically is Jupiter and Saturn, which Fentress describes as two very bright planets in the night sky, are appearing extremely close to one another. Though that number is relative.

“They are just aligned in space,” Fentress said. “Saturn is about 450 million miles away from Jupiter.”

More accurately, since planets in our solar system follow a generally elliptical path, the convergence we see is that more that those two planets are aligning in our viewing path. Fentress says that Jupiter passing Saturn happens about every 20 years, but what makes this year special is how close they are.

Fentress says that unless you have a telescope, binoculars, or “really good eyesight,” you won’t be able to tell the two planets apart in the night sky. That will change starting tomorrow night, so the viewing window is small.

Fentress says that the best time and method to view the “Christmas Star” — if you can through the cloudy skies tonight — is to look low in the southwestern sky. The planets will look like a single, bright star.

Provided by Douglass Kostyk

If you looked earlier or later this week, Jupiter will look a big bright star, whereas Saturn will look like a dimmer dot.

The next time these planets will be this close for us will be in 2080, according to Fentress.

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