Christmas Star appears in SA skies tonight

Christmas star

This December South Africans will be able to see the rare “Christmas star”. Jupiter and Saturn, the two biggest planets in our solar system, are putting on a celestial show just in time for the holidays.

Although it is called the “Christmas star”, it’s not actually a star. Astronomers refer to the celestial phenomenon as the “Great Conjunction”

On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will align in a “great conjunction”, causing them to appear close together in the night sky.

Although the two planets align every 20 years, not all conjunctions are equal and you are not always able to see it.

This solar system chart shows the positions of Jupiter and Saturn during the “great conjunction” on Dec. 21, 2020, when the two planets will appear just one-tenth of a degree apart in the night sky. 
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Celestia)

The last time they appeared this close was in 1623 AD, but they would have appeared very close to the Sun, which would be difficult for people to see. This year, like in 1226 AD, it is not near the Sun, so people can actually witness the Christmas star. 

How to see the Christmas star:

The best time to see it is just after sunset.

Look to the western horizon and you’ll be able to spot Jupiter and Saturn — the two brightest objects in the sky.

A telescope or a pair of binoculars might help you observe the rings on Saturn and some of the moons that orbit Jupiter. 

The next Great Conjunction will occur in 2080.

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