Early Christmas star to appear

By: 
Walter Sprague

Photo courtesy of Dan Pullan

Janet Pullan, and grandson Gerard Pullan, align an 8-inch reflector telescope on an equatorial mount, preparing it for a night of observations. 

 

Walter Sprague

Art and Culture Reporter

 

On Monday, Dec, 21, a rare occurrence will take center stage in the sky. According to Upton astronomers Dan and Janet Pullan, the last time this event happened was in the year 1226. When the two planets pass within a half degree of each other, it will be the last time for hundreds of years to come. When planets pass close to each other in our sightline, the event is called a conjunction.

Both planets will be visible to the naked eye if the skies are clear. The conjunction can be seen just after sunset in the Southwestern United States.

To see Saturn’s rings or view the moons of both planets, a scope or binoculars that can magnify by 15 times or more is needed.

According to space.com, this conjunction is called “The Great Conjunction.” The informal name is due to the event’s rarity and because these are the two largest planets in the solar system. There are more visible conjunctions
with the other planets, excluding Mercury, than these two gas giants.

The two planets did get this close in 1623. However, the sun was in the sky when that happened for most people on earth, so they did not get to see it until after it occurred. This event will also be happening on the day that winter begins — the winter solstice. Some astronomers call the event an early Christmas Star because of how close it is to Christmas.

Unfortunately, Dan Pullan said that there are no organized “star parties” that he is aware of in our area because of the pandemic. However, because this view does not require special equipment to observe, he also thinks it could be an excellent opportunity to spark some interest in this field of study. Pullan is also a member of NASA’s Night Sky Network, which exists to promote interest in astronomy. He will also teach a beginning astronomy class on March 18 for  Eastern Wyoming College at the high school. Anyone interested in starting astronomy can call Kim Conzelman at (307) 746-3603.

Anyone who wants to view this rare conjunction can just look for the two brightest stars in the southwestern sky. Those will be Saturn and Jupiter, and they will be very close together. Jupiter is the brighter of the two, but Saturn will be bright as well. If the skies are clear, this event is not to be missed, especially for those interested in space.

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