Monday, December 21, 2020

The Winter Solstice 2020

Today is the winter solstice--the shortest day and the longest night of the year. For those of us who hate that the sun goes down before 4:30 p.m., today is a cause for celebration. From here on, the days will get progressively longer until the summer solstice in June.

Today, after the earliest sunset of the year, a rare astronomical event will take place: the conjunction of the solar system's two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn.

Jupiter and Saturn regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, but according to the NASA website, what makes this year special is this: "It's been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night . . . allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this 'great conjunction.'"

Forbes Magazine offers this advice about viewing the phenomenon, which is being called the "Christmas star":
It will happen just after sunset in the southwestern sky on December 21, 2020, and will take place low to the horizon. There can be no wasted time because the two planets will sink below the horizon about two hours after sunset.
Find out the exact time of sunset where you are and be somewhere with a good view low to the southwest horizon about 45 minutes after sunset. You will see Jupiter emerge in the twilight followed by Saturn to its upper-right.
For more information about astronomical events happening today, read the entire article in Forbes, "How, When and Where You Can See 'Christmas Star' Planets Then Shooting Stars On This Solstice Week."

Sunset will occur here in Hudson at 4:26 p.m. today, so the "great conjunction" will happen at about 5:11 p.m. Unfortunately, just to remind us that this may be the worst year in memory for most of us, it is predicted to be cloudy at that time. Nevertheless, it's worth the effort to try to witness this rare phenomenon, which, as Jamie Carter put it in Forbes, is "a view that most humans can never hope to have in their lifetime."

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