Christmas Star 2020: When to watch the rare phenomenon

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Monday, Dec. 21 is the shortest day of 2020 for the United States and the rest of the northern hemisphere.

It’s the winter solstice: The first day of winter and also our longest night once the sun sets at 4:54 p.m. in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year, the long night gives a dark backdrop to let the ‘Christmas Star shine bright for us to see for the first time since March 4, 1226.

That’s right — it has been nearly 800 years since the last visible Great Conjunction, which is when Jupiter and Saturn will be so close to each other they will look like they are touching.

With Christmas just days away, the celestial event has been dubbed the ‘Christmas Star.’ And NASA says you won’t even need a telescope to witness it.

“Look for them low in the southwest in the hour after sunset,” NASA officials said in a press release. “The two planets and their moons will be visible in the same field of view through binoculars or a small telescope. In fact, Saturn will appear as close to Jupiter as some of Jupiter’s moons.”

NASA said the two giant planets will remain just a tenth of a degree apart for a few days. But in space, they will actually still be hundreds of millions of miles apart.

It’s a special astronomical phenomenon but it’s also just a coincidence to be happening during the winter solstice.

The winter solstice happens when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which the National Weather Service says runs through Australia, Chile, southern Brazil, and northern South Africa.

The southern hemisphere experiences the opposite: The winter solstice in the south marks the start of summer and the longest day of the year.

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