The moon and Jupiter are set to put on a dazzling cosmic display in the night sky this week, coinciding with the winter solstice on December 21. As the longest night of the year unfolds, stargazers can expect striking celestial sights involving our planet’s natural satellite and the largest planet in the solar system.
Rare Moon-Jupiter Conjunction on Solstice Night
On the evening of December 21, the nearly full moon will pass less than 2° from brilliant Jupiter, appearing merged together to the naked eye in a rare celestial event known as a conjunction (Source). As the solstice marks the official start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the moon-Jupiter meet-up promises to make the longest night of the year even more magical.
“On the evening of the 21st, the moon and Jupiter will have a close encounter, separated by just 1.9° at their closest,” said astronomer Jamie Carter in Forbes. “It’ll be a beautiful photo opportunity as the 79%-illuminated Moon and mighty Jupiter seem to dance in the southwestern night sky after sunset” (Source).
Sky-watchers across most of the globe will be able to see the Moon-Jupiter conjunction, weather permitting. The cosmic duo will become visible in the southwestern sky after sunset, remaining viewable for several hours.
Dazzling ‘Christmas Star’ Also in Sky This Week
In addition to the attention-grabbing lunar rendezvous with Jupiter, observers can also look forward to spotting a radiant “Christmas Star” in the December sky (Source). The moniker refers to Sirius, the night sky’s brightest star. Part of the Canis Major constellation, it derives its festive nickname from its appearance around the time of the winter holidays.
“Shining with a twinkling red and green hue, Sirius is about 10 times more massive than our Sun and twice as hot,” Carter explained. “However, it’s also relatively close to our solar system…just 8.7 light-years away from Earth…and that’s why it appears so bright” (Source).
Sirius, aka the “Christmas Star,” will climb highest in the sky around 9-10 p.m. local time during the week leading up to December 25, making for excellent viewing opportunities alongside other eye-catching events happening among the stars.
More Shooting Stars Than Usual
Increased meteor shower activity ramps up the cosmic excitement even further in the days surrounding the solstice. The annual Ursid meteor shower is expected to peak the nights of December 21-23, with optimal viewing after midnight when the moon has set below the horizon (Source).
While the Ursids typically produce about 10 meteors per hour at their best, this year’s shower could surge to 30+ shooting stars per hour thanks to enhanced activity from comet 8P/Tuttle (Source). Even in an average year, the Ursids stand out for featuring brighter than average meteors with long trains. With clear weather and little moonlight interference, stargazers might witness spectacular bursting “fireballs” from comet debris vaporizing in Earth’s atmosphere.
How to Catch the Celestial Shows
Catching this week’s stellar highlights will require nothing more sophisticated than one’s own eyes. But to maximize enjoyment of the astronomical events unfolding, experts offer some tips:
- Find an observing spot away from bright city lights with a wide open view (Source).
- Allow time for eyes to adjust to the dark.
- Face south-southwest and look about one-third up from the horizon to spot Jupiter and the moon (Source).
- Best viewing of the Ursid meteor shower is around 2 a.m. local time looking northward (Source).
- Download a night sky app to help locate celestial objects.
While this week promises exceptional cosmic entertainment involving the moon, Jupiter and shooting stars, additional interesting events are on tap in the coming nights according to astronomy experts. The moon is set to pass near Saturn and Mars in late December and January (Source). Plus with the solstice occurring, daylight hours will gradually start growing longer even as winter gets underway.
So make plans to spend some time under the stars this week and enjoy nature’s holiday treats in the form of “close celestial encounters” (Source)! The cosmic shows make for wondrous viewing while reminding us of the beauty and mysteries contained in the vast universe beyond our little planet.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.