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Jupiter and Saturn align to create ‘Christmas Star’ on winter solstice

(Update: adding video, new comments and information)

The 2 planets have not appeared this close at night in almost 800 years

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- It's an astronomical event hundreds of years in the making - Jupiter and Saturn aligning in the night sky, closer than they've been since the Middle Ages.

Jupiter and Saturn typically align every 20 years or so, but this event is especially rare because of how close the planets will appear to each other.

"I have been studying the sky for a long time," said Bob Grossfeld, manager of the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver. "This is the first time I've seen Jupiter and Saturn in the same field of view in a telescope."

Jupiter and Saturn are typically about a full moon apart when they converge. However, this time is especially rare, because they will be only be separated by about 1/5th of the diameter of a full moon.

However, experts say the planets will still actually be hundreds of millions of miles apart.

Still, you would have to go back to March 4, 1226 for the last time that alignment in the sky happened at night - nearly 800 years ago.

"The two best planets in one field of view -- it's just phenomenal," Grossfeld told NewsChannel 21 Monday.

This movement of the planets is called a conjunction, or a Great Conjunction when they are expected to be this close.

Though some people, like long-time Bend resident Michele Decker, have dubbed this the 'Christmas Star,' because the timing is so close to the holiday.

Decker thinks that coincidental timing has some meaning behind it.

"I think this event it sort of hopeful, during a time that's been really really stressful," she told NewsChannel21.

While this conjunction can be seen for all of December, the two planets will be closest together on Monday night, which also just so happens to be winter solstice - another coincidence, according to experts.

The best time to view the Great Conjunction, or 'Christmas Star,' is typically after sunset, just above the southwest horizon.

It's also best to have a clear night sky, which will likely not be the case Monday for much of the High Desert as clouds and showers move in. If that happens, has set up a series of webcasts that will allow you to view the conjunction online, if you're having trouble seeing it in person.

Grossfeld said it can be seen with the naked eye, but if you use optical instruments, you can see an image that's even more special.

"With a telescope, for example, on Friday night, when the weather did clear for us, we were able to see Jupiter, four moons lined up, and then Saturn, its rings, and three of its moons all in the same field of view," Grossfeld said.

He recommends people get out and try to view this Great Conjunction, because the planets will not get this close again for at least another 60 years.

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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.


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