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Here's the best way to view the Saturn-Jupiter 'great conjunction' in Utah

Posted at 10:10 PM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 00:10:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY — It looked as though Utahns just *might* get the rare opportunity to see the Northern Lights Thursday, but it turned out to be a bust.

For anyone who was disappointed by Mother Nature's canceled sky show, don't worry because there's still a chance to see a phenomenon in the night sky in Utah-- and it's even more rare than the Aurora Borealis.

It's called he "great conjunction."

Saturn and Jupiter will move into the same area of the night sky, until they line up on December 21 and look as one.

"They are glorious," Clark Planetarium Director Lindsie Smith said, of the planet pair. "Saturn is the ringed beauty of the heavens, and Jupiter is massive."

Conjunctions happen when planets align, but she explained that when it's our solar system's two largest planets, that makes it a great conjunction.

Smith talked about how this particular space spectacle is one not to miss, especially through a telescope or binoculars.

"Some people say that it might look like an elongated star," she said.

The planets will sit about a tenth of a degree apart. According to Smith, a margin that close hasn't been achieved in about 400 years, and even then, it appeared no one on earth could see it because the planets were too close to the sun.

It's been about 800 years, Smith indicated, since anyone on earth has seen Saturn and Jupiter that close together.

She said that makes this great conjunction really special.

With its timing during the winter season, she mentioned that many are calling this the 'Christmas star.'

And just like a true holiday miracle, Smith described how our solar system has something special in store during this beautiful phenomenon.

"[This] is also a trifecta of astronomical events, because it happens on the solstice and the peak of the Geminids meteor shower," she said.

While Monday, December 21 is the big day to spot the out-of-this-world sight, Smith said that anyone can go outside each night this month and, when an inversion or clouds aren't ruining the views, they'll be able to spot the planets.

Each night, the planets will float closer together until the great conjunction on December 21.

For Utahns, Smith explained that the magic time to catch the great conjunction is between 6 and 7 pm.

She's happy that so many people are taking an interest.

"It's incredibly exciting to us, because anything that gets the public excited about space and science-- we love," she said.

To celebrate the event, the Clark Planetarium is hosting a virtual chat with an education expert on Sunday, December 20 at 3 pm.

Details on the event will be forthcoming.