If you looked up at the night sky on winter solstice this year, you may have caught a rare sight. On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn appeared closer to one another than they have in eight centuries.
Alignments between the planets, known as a ‘conjunction’, is “rather rare,” Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan explained in a statement, “but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another.”
The last time these gas giants appeared so closely, at a visible separation of only 0.1 degrees, was in the Middle Ages: at predawn on March 4, 1226.
Of course, the appearance of the ‘Christmas Star’ or ‘Star of Bethlehem’—so named because the closeness of the planets creates a shining point of light—is a phenomenon only observed from Earth. In reality, Jupiter and Saturn remain millions of miles apart.Saturn and Jupiter have been moving steadily closer to each other since summer 2020.
Taking the time to look for these planets over the coming nights is worth it. If you can access a telescope, several of the planets’ largest moons will also be visible in the same field of view that night. Why not take one night to put on a skincare face mask and enjoy the night sky like you haven’t since you were a child? Get nighttime, star gazing ready with a mask like Magnetight,Vacuum Cleaner, or Oxygen Facial. A screen-free night coupled with masking and a quarantine buddy is just what your mind and body need during these times.
There is also something very powerful about gazing at the night sky and it is known to have positive mental health benefits, similar to that of meditation.
Did you miss the stars on December 21? Not to worry, Jupiter and Saturday will still appear extra near to each other for the week surrounding solstice.