December 21 is going to be the shortest day of the year and the official start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and a once in your lifetime chance to witness a rare astronomical phenomenon named the “Christmas Star,” otherwise more scientifically, “Great Conjunction.”
Will Jupiter and Saturn Look Like a Single ‘Christmas Star’?
Jupiter and Saturn will get incredibly close to each other on December 21, 2020. This magnificent celestial spectacle hasn’t been visible on Earth for almost 800 years! The last time when it was possible to view this conjunction was in March 1226. Apparently, those two planets came close to each other once in 400 years, and it’s not always visible at night.
It’s assumed the two planets may appear as a single object for a few people worldwide, yet it depends on the weather and your location. Considering nothing similar has happened in our lifetime, it’s impossible to know for sure what it will look like.
The good news is that the conjunction also coincides with the winter solstice, and everyone could probably view it with the naked eye tonight!
According to scientists, it is a coincidence, and we shouldn’t seek any hidden astrological meaning to this extremely rare happening. Yet, at the same time, many astronomers believe that Jupiter and Saturn won’t be close enough to form a ‘Christmas star.’
A few theories claim that the biblical Star of Bethlehem could have been nothing but another Great Conjunction. Christians globally believe that a bright star in the night sky led Three Wise Men to the place where Jesus was born.
Watch the video to learn more about the Great Conjunction:
Many different cultures have celebrated the solstice since ancient times around our planet.
Why is the solstice important?
The Winter Solstice occurs only once a year in each hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere (in December), it marks the shortest day of the year. The sun appears at the most southerly position directly overhead at the faraway Tropic of Capricorn. Therefore when the one hemisphere is experiencing winter solstice, the Southern Hemisphere experiences summer solstice, which marks the longest day in the year in places such as; South Africa, Australia, and Argentina.
The solstice takes place on December 21 this year. The days and times that the solstice occurs can shift because of the time it takes the sun to reenter the same place as seen from Earth doesn’t exactly match our calendar year.
For the exact times, it occurs below are local times around the globe.
— Tokyo: 7:02 p.m. Monday
— Bangkok: 5:02 p.m. Monday
— Dubai: 2:02 p.m. Monday
— Rome: 11:02 a.m. Monday
— Casablanca, Morocco: 10:02 a.m. Monday (same as UTC)
— Boston: 5:02 a.m. Monday
— Vancouver: 2:02 a.m. Monday
— Honolulu: 12:02 a.m. Monday
What causes the winter solstice to happen?
As the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis, we experience seasons on Earth. Earth moves around the sun. Therefore, each hemisphere experiences winter when tilted away from the sun and summer when it’s tilted toward the sun.
Scientists are not entirely sure why the Earth is tilted but thought that as the solar system was taking shape billions of years ago, the Earth had severe collisions that caused the axis to tilt.
How to observe the effects of the winter solstice?
Stand outside at noon and observe your shadow. It’s the longest shadow that you’ll ever cast in the year! Try it again on the day of the summer solstice, and there will be almost no shadow.
Stonehenge is believed to be built to celebrate the winter solstice.
Plenty of people celebrate the solstices at Stonehenge in England due to the stones’ alignment. Experts acknowledge the design appears to correspond with the use of the solstices and probably other solar and lunar astronomical events.
Yet, there are various theories, including that the area was used as a temple to worship the sun, as a royal burial ground. However, these theories have not been proven. Therefore the true reason Stonehenge exists remains a mystery.