The Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn How can I see the astronomical Christmas Kiss?

To those astronomy fans who were left wanting after the six eclipses of this turbulent 2020 – the last one a spectacular total solar eclipse– they still have a very important appointment. This December 21, the “Christmas Star” or “Christmas Kiss” will be seen in many parts of the planet: the conjunction between the largest planets in our Solar System: Jupiter and Saturn.

It has been 400 years since the two planets have been aligned so closely in our sky, and it has been 800 years since this phenomenon occurred at night, according to reports NASA. So let’s say the occasion deserves an effort not to miss the appointment.

These are the keys to the Great Conjunction or Christmas Kiss:

Actually Jupiter and Saturn, of course, are still about 600 million kilometers, each in their orbit, as the fifth and sixth planets in our Solar System, relative to the sun.

Simply, their orbits and Earth’s are aligned so that they appear “together” in the sky. Jupiter’s orbit is faster and its paths only cross once every 20 years or so. Seeing them so close is very exceptional, as NASA points out.

The phenomenon is already visible since Wednesday, December 16. They will appear closer and closer until the 21st – where they will look like a “double planet” and then can be seen “splitting apart” until December 24th.

The coincidence of dates makes some call the phenomenon “Christmas Star”, for the star that would have guided the Magi to the Portal of Bethlehem, but the question divides the experts.

No special gadgets are required, although NASA recommends using a small telescope or binoculars to enhance the experience. It is enough to find an open space and a clear sky and as dark as possible (away from cities if possible).

Still, our Solar System neighbors shine so bright that they can be seen even from most urban areas.

After sunset, look to the southwest, roughly toward where the sun sets. Jupiter appears as a very bright star (the second brightest after the Moon). Saturn is seen somewhat smaller, with a characteristic yellow tint, above Jupiter until the 21st. After that, they will reverse positions and begin to “separate.”

The phenomenon lasts a few hours. Later, the two stars will disappear on the horizon. The closer to the Earth’s equator we are, the longer we can see this celestial Christmas Kiss.

Those who cannot go out for some reason or in case the skies are cloudy during the whole period, will be able to enjoy it thanks to the live broadcasts of several observatories around the globe.

The page of the Astronomical Federation of Spain collects numerous live events throughout the country, around sunset.

Virtual Telescope offers a live session on December 21 at 16:00 UT / GMT (17:00 Central European Time, 12:00 in Argentina).

He Lowell Observatory in Arizona, United States, broadcasts from 17:00 MST (21:00 in Argentina, 00:00 on Tuesday, December 22 GMT, 01:00 Central European Time).

He too Dyer Observatory offers a broadcast on the 21st at 17:00 CST (21:00 GMT).

Also, of course, December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, when the Sun appears lowest on our horizon.

The year of astronomical events ends with the Ursid meteor shower, visible on the same days as the Great Conjunction, the conjunction of Mars and the Moon on December 23, and a full moon on December 30.