Saturn, Jupiter to appear at their closest in 800 years Monday night

A Virginia Tech physics professor offers perspective on advice on how to view this planetary conjunction

ROANOKE, Va. – You may have seen on social media that “The Christmas Star” will be visible in the sky on the first night of winter. Virginia Tech physics professor, Nahum Arav, says that’s because, “People have a very easy connection between what we will see now and the Christmas Star that was written about in the Scripture.”

In actuality, this is the alignment of two planets in our solar system. He explains, “The Great Conjunction is the appearance of Saturn and Jupiter coming very close to each other.”

For weeks, the two have been getting closer together in the skydome. On the night of Dec. 21, however, Arav explains, “Separation between them will be about one-fifth of the apparent size of the moon in the sky. The last time it was so close was in the 13th century.”

You can take the diameter of a dime and barely fit it in between the two Monday night. What’s amazing is that “The planets are very far from each other physically. They’re about 400 million miles away from each other.”

In order to see them, all you have to do is go out and look southwest shortly after sunset. Arav says that bright lights won’t even get in the way of your view.

“Even if you live in the city, they’ll still be so bright that you can see them.”

While a conjunction this close hasn’t happened in 800 years, Arav tells us we won’t have to wait as long for the next one to appear this close.

“We’ll have another close approach in 2080.”

He also says that if clouds get in the way Monday to try looking Tuesday night as well. They will appear very close before Monday as well. Whether you call it the Great Conjunction or the Christmas Star, it is a piece of extra brightness toward the end of what’s been a dark year.

About the Author:

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.