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Here’s how to spot the rare ‘Christmas Star’ on Monday

The ‘star’ is actual Saturn and Jupiter appearing their closest in 800 years

Virginia Tech professor offers advice, perspective on "The Christmas Star"
Virginia Tech professor offers advice, perspective on "The Christmas Star"

ROANOKE, Va. – You’ll want to make sure you don’t miss tonight’s astronomical marvel!

Despite being 400 million miles away from each other Saturn and Jupiter will appear closers than they have since the 13th century.

Since the event is happening so close to Christmas, many have dubbed the phenomenon the “Christmas Star.”

In Southwest and Central Virginia here’s what to do so you don’t miss it!

How To See:

When: Shortly after sunset. Below are a few sunset times as a reference:

  • 4:58 p.m. in Charlottesville
  • 5:02 p.m. in Lynchburg
  • 5:03 p.m. in Lexington and South Boston
  • 5:06 p.m. in Roanoke, Danville
  • 5:08 p.m. in Blacksburg
  • 5:12 p.m. in Galax
  • 5:14 p.m. in Marion

Where: Look towards the west/southwest sky

Unfortunately, with this evening’s forecast, it’s not guaranteed you’ll see it; however, there could be a break in the clouds when we’ll need it most.

What’s great is that you don’t even need a telescope to see it; however if you do have one, here’s what you’ll see:

Great Conjunction through a telescope

Thankfully we won’t need to wait another 800 years to see something like this again.

We’ll have another close approach in 2080, according to Virginia Tech physics professor Nahum Arav.

He also said that if clouds get in the way Monday to try looking Tuesday night as well.

So why does this happen in the first place?

Saturn takes about 30 Earth years to make a trip around the sun. It takes Jupiter about 12 Earth years to do the same. (Credit: WKMG)

The Great Conjunction occurs because Jupiter has the inside track while orbiting the sun in our solar system. Since Jupiter’s orbit is smaller than Saturn’s, Jupiter moves around the sun faster and catches up to the Ringed Planet. Think of it as a NASCAR race with the infield being the sun. The car that has the inside lane gets around the infield faster than a car on the outside.


About the Authors:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.

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.