On the evening of 12/21/20, Saturn and Jupiter will be close together in the sky as viewed from planet Earth. The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center will have viewing available on 12/20, 12/21, and 12/22 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm with the Bechtel Telescope.

Precautions will be in place in response to COVID:

  • The telescope view will be projected on a screen outside of the observatory on the roof.
  • People will not be able to look directly into the eyepiece of the telescope because of the close proximity of people to each other and to the eyepiece.
  • Masks must be worn inside of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center and on the roof.
  • Family groups should maintain 6-ft distances from other family groups.
  • The waiting area will be outside of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center on the patio and the adjacent lawn.
  • Elevator access is to the third floor of the building. Access to the roof is by a stairwell from the third floor.
  • Sunset is just before 5:30, which is why that time was selected for the beginning of the event. Saturn and Jupiter will set soon after 7:30 and not be visible after that time.

On the evening of 12/21, the two planets will appear closer to each other in the sky than they have for 800 years. They will be visible in the southwestern sky just after sunset. Two other events make this occasion even more unique. 12/21 is the Winter Solstice, which is the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere. The first quarter moon is also on this day. Because of the conjunction being this close to Christmas, it has been nicknamed the “Christmas Star.” Some have postulated that a possible astronomic explanation for the original Star over Bethlehem might have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

Plan to have binoculars available. You will be able to see both planets in the binoculars at the same time. It would be helpful to prop the binoculars on a solid surface. You could prop them against a tree or a pole, as long as you still have a view of the planets.

Whether you visit the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center or stay in the comfort of your own back yard, plan to enjoy this unique astronomical event to close out 2020 and help to celebrate the holiday season.

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