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Look Up In The Sky Tonight To See The Unusual Planetary Alignment Known As "The Christmas Star"

Jo Ingles

If you see Ohioans standing outside tonight, gazing up in the skies, they are probably looking for what’s being called, “The Christmas Star.” It’s a celestial phenomenon that happens when Jupiter and Saturn get close to each other and it doesn’t happen often. 

The Christmas star is folklore and was popularized on the big screen in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, when Chevy Chase’s family rushed into the yard, following a child who ran out the door proclaiming, "It's Santa Claus." Chase said,“No, it’s the Christmas star and that’s all that matters tonight.” 

But Tom Burns, the former director of the Perkins Observatory in Delaware, said the "Christmas Star" really isn’t a thing. 

“Well, no, as a matter of fact, this is something that has been driving me CRAZY (in Tom Burns traditional inflection – priceless) in the past month or so as this has come out," Burns explained.

Burns said what’s being referred to as the "Christmas Star" is actually the point when Jupiter and Saturn come close to each other and can be seen by the naked eye when you look to the Southwest. 

“If you look in the direction that the sun has just set and I would start looking in bright evening twilight if it happens to be clear and as the sky darkens, first you will see Jupiter pop up and then Saturn," Burns said. 

Burns said this alignment happens every 19.7 years. And he said the night that it is the closest is the 21st – which coincidentally is when Winter Soltice is celebrated. But Burns said it’s been centuries since the two planets have been so near to each other.

“This is about as close as they’ve been for 800 years but fear not, in about 60 years or so, they will have another close approach," Burns said.

Burns said don’t worry if it’s too cloudy tonight because the bright planetary show can be seen in the next few days as well, even if it is a little further away. And he said this can all be seen with the naked eye. But he cautioned those who use a telescope not to share it with anyone outside their group because COVID-19 can spread through that kind of contact. 

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.