Locals crane their necks skyward for glimpse of rare ‘Christmas Star’

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SAN DIEGO – Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, are coming closer together than they’ve been since the Middle Ages.

A woman peeks through a telescope in search of a glimpse of the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn known as the “Christmas Star” on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Scripps Ranch.

“Basically, the planets are going around the sun — kind of like cars on a racetrack,” local astronomer Francis French said, “and every now and then, they just line up with our field of view. However, they don’t often come together as close as this.”

The rare celestial event — dubbed the “Christmas Star” — is not actually a star, but a close conjunction of the two planets that caught the eye of people around the world Monday including a handful in San Diego. It will be visible in the sky for the next several nights.

After that, it won’t be seen again until March 15, 2080.

“This is not something that happens for hundreds of years, so this is really a special treat,” French said. “Once in our lifetimes that will hopefully cheer us all up.”

If you’re a stargazer like Carter Hass of the San Diego Astronomy Association, you’re going to pull out the best of the best to watch the spectacle unfold.

“The astronomers recorded it by writing it down on paper and seeing how close the two dots were on paper,” Hass said. “Now we have modern instruments like these that can go look and gaze at these beautiful planets.”

Even though the planets may seem close, they’re still hundreds of millions of miles apart. Thanks to Hass’s telescopes, several of his neighbors were able to see the great conjunction.

“That was awesome, you can actually see some of the rings, the little moons around it,” Keith Wan said. “That’s pretty neat.”

Wan’s wife Deanna added, “It’s cool that we get to see it just in our neighborhood. We can have clear skies and (we’re) able to see it so nicely.”

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