In a rare celestial event not seen in nearly 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn will align to create what will appear to be one large star in the night sky on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, the day each year with the shortest period of daylight and longest night in the Northern Hemisphere.
UMass Lowell astronomer Silas Laycock
, an authority on space phenomena, is available to discuss what scientists call the “Great Conjunction,” the closest alignment of Jupiter and Saturn visible to the naked eye since 1226. Given its appearance amid the holiday season, many amateur astronomers have nicknamed the event the “Christmas star,” according to Laycock.
“Anyone giving a telescope as a holiday gift should let the recipient unwrap it a few days early for an experience that cannot be replicated for hundreds of years to come,” said Laycock, who has been tracking Jupiter and Saturn over the past few weeks as they have drawn closer to each other in the evening sky.
He is available to discuss:
- What stargazers with binoculars or a telescope will be able to see as the planets come together and then drift apart after Dec. 21;
- The best places and times to witness this process;
- Why and how often planetary conjunctions occur, how far apart the planets really are and why they look so close together.
Laycock is an associate professor of physics who conducts research in the university’s Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology
. He also leads UMass Lowell’s Astronomy Roadshow program, which visits K-12 schools to educate children about the subject.