SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Today is the winter solstice and if you look outside tonight around 5:30 p.m., you can see what many are calling the “Christmas Star” or the “Star of Bethlehem.”
Jupiter and Saturn will appear to come together this evening, forming what will look like a bright star days before Christmas.
When their orbits align every 20 years, Jupiter and Saturn get extremely close to one another. Jupiter orbits the sun every 12 years, while Saturn’s orbit takes 30 years, so every few decades Jupiter laps Saturn, according to NASA.
The phenomenon was first observed through a telescope in 1623 by Galileo Galilei, according to NASA, but it has been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other and nearly 800 years since the alignment was as close and observable as it will be Monday night.
The planets will appear a tenth of a degree apart.
At the Spartanburg Science Center in the Chapman Cultural Center, USC Upstate professor Jon Storm said to see it, you should face Southwest after sunset and look to the right of the moon near the horizon line.
He suggests finding a clear field or a spot with an unobstructed view. If you have binoculars, he said you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons.
“You want to look maybe about two fists high above the horizon line, [and] you’ll see this bright light off in the Southwest. It kind of looks like bright lights of a landing airplane coming towards you,” he said.
As for the nickname “Star of Bethlehem,” he said some astronomers hypothesize that the bright star referenced in the Bible years ago was caused by a similar planetary alignment.
“Maybe it was a comet. It might have been a supernova. Another idea is that it was a planetary conjunction, but maybe not this one. It might have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus coming together looking very close to each other in the sky from our vantage point in the sky, getting very bright and that is what the ‘Christmas Star’ was for the Wise Men.”
He added that the best chance to see this bright phenomenon is between 5:30 and 7 p.m. Monday evening, and the next time they will be this close and visible is in March of 2080.