What is the “Christmas star”? For months, Jupiter and Saturn, the two biggest planets in our solar system, have been steadily pulling closer together. On the winter solstice, Dec. 21, they’ll come so close (within 0.1 degrees) that they will appear to overlap like one big, bright star.
It’s the first time since the Middle Ages (in 1226, to be specific), that Jupiter and Saturn have aligned to create this “Christmas star.” Some people believe this is the “Star of Bethlehem” the shepherds saw in the Nativity story.
Even in the city, you can go outside for some quick backyard astronomy — and to look for the Christmas star. Jupiter and Saturn are easy to find on clear nights though the month of December. And luckily, they’re on a bedtime-friendly schedule: The planets will be most visible in Seattle immediately after sunset, between 5 and 6 p.m. Look low in the southwestern sky — if you wait too long, the planets will sink below the horizon.
Binoculars or a telescope are helpful, but the planets are so big you can see them with the naked eye.
How will you recognize them? Jupiter looks brighter than any star in the sky, and Saturn has a golden glow (and it’s near Jupiter). And unlike stars, the planets don’t twinkle.
This story was originally published on Dec. 8.