The Winter Solstice has arrived, which means that you won't have to deal with 4:30pm sunsets for too much longer. This year's solstice also brings a celestial event that hasn't occurred since 1623: visible gas giants Jupiter and Saturn getting so close to one another that they seem to merge into a single point of light.
The phenomena is known as a "Great Conjunction"—when two or more stars line up in the sky, it's referred to as a "conjunction"—or the "Christmas star," owing to its proximity to the holiday season. Some astronomers have theorized that the bright "star of Bethlehem" that's referenced in the story of the three wise men might have been a triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.
You'll be able to spot the "Christmas star" above Chicago tonight and tomorrow, when Jupiter and Saturn are only a tenth of a degree apart from one another. According to the stargazing experts at the Adler Planetarium, residents should be able to spot the conjunction low in the southwest sky after sunset—just make sure that you have a clear, unobstructed view of the horizon by watching from a park or field. NASA recommends waiting until an hour after sunset for optimal views, though cloudy weather (and Chicago's omnipresent light pollution) could make it more difficult to observe.
If you can't make it outside this evening, you should be able to see the "Christmas star" tomorrow evening as well. And if you don't feel like standing outside in the cold to witness this once-in-a-lifetime celestial event, there are plenty of live YouTube streams of the conjunction taking place as viewed through telescopes. Happy solstice!
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