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Science

Stargazers Report: Winter solstice 2020 and the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

earth_winter_solstice_2011_nasa.jpg
NASA
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Look up into the night sky for the next several days and observe the winter solstice, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and the Ursids meteor shower.

Click on the arrow below to hear KBBI volunteer Victoria Wilson Winne with the December Stargazers Report.

  Transcript:

One of the most magical gifts of Alaskan winters is the long dark nights. Favoring us with wonderful star gazing opportunities, including one remarkable astronomical event on winter solstice.

This year, the winter solstice occurs at precisely 1:02 AM on December the 21st. Winter solstice marks when Earth's northerly axis tilts as far away from the sun as possible, resulting in lowest Noonday sun of the year and to the most southerly sunrise and sunset of the year.

 
 
But what is the earth's tilt measured relative to it's measured against what is called the ecliptic plane. Which is the plane on which the earth and the other planets orbit the sun without this tilt, our planet would have no seasons and we would have no solstices this evening. Look south, southwest, just after sunset until just before seven o'clock.

 
 
The curved disc of the new moon will be pointing at two bright objects, low on the horizon. These are our two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn. They've been creeping towards one another over the past few weeks until, on winter solstice, they will align in the sky to appear as one. This is called a great conjunction and will be the closest Jupiter/Saturn conjunction since the year 1623.

A similarly close conjunction of these two planets won't happen again for another 60 years. As December proceeds, you will witness this one bright orb separating into two with a less bright being Saturn. If you have access to a telescope or even a decent spotting scope, Saturn's rings are nicely tilted towards us giving a spectacular view and you may even glimpse some of Jupiter's moons.
 
 
Another two splendid planets to watch for are Mars and Venus. With the moon, again, acting as your guide to find Mars on the 23rd of December, the planet will be directly above the moon.

Mars shining with its characteristic red hue as the stars begin to fade in the morning twilight, look eastward to behold glorious Venus outshining everything else until it can no longer compete with the rising sun.
 

 
Another treat from tonight through Christmas: Look north after midnight to locate the constellation star depicted on Alaska's state flag,  Ursa Major and Polaris, the north star. Wrap up warm and be patient, and you should be rewarded with some wonderful shooting stars - part of the Ursids meteor shower, which peaks on solstice as the days begin to lengthen.

 
 
Be sure to take advantage of all that our enchanting, night skies have to offer.
This is Victoria Wilson Winnie with the Stargazers Report.