Normally, on the first day of Winter, December 21st (or, the Winter solstice) here in the Rockford area, we react with...well, we don't really react because it's already cold and usually snowy, and it's felt like winter for weeks already.

This year, Jupiter and Saturn are going to team up to give us something to talk about on December 21st, other than the fact that we're entering Winter (one of our two Rockford seasons, with the other being the season of road repair and construction). And, what you'll see won't happen again for the better part of 1,000 years.

Actually, the Jupiter and Saturn thing is really a once-in-a-lifetime event, assuming that most of us won't live to be 800 years old.

I'll admit to being a fan of these once-in-a-lifetime events. I remember the hoopla surrounding the appearance of arguably the most famous comet of them all, Halley's Comet in 1986. Halley's Comet rolls through our galactic neighborhood once every 75 years, so it's not exactly a once-in-a-lifetime thing, should probably take better care of yourself if you want to see it next time in 2061.

Hale-Bopp, a comet that came through our part of the galaxy in 1996, won't return for another 2,500 years.

Then there was Comet Neowise. If you can remember all the way back to March, astronomers just happened to discover it as it made its approach into our solar system. If you missed that one, you'll have to wait about 6,800 years to see it again.

Which brings us back to the "Christmas Star," or "Star of Bethlehem." You may have heard of it. It's mentioned in the Bible, but only once, in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament (Matt 2:2, 7-10, King James Version).

On December 21st, Jupiter and Saturn will align as they're viewed from Earth. That alignment will produce a very bright point of light, as if the planets collided (they won't).


“Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to be to one another,” said Patrick Hartigan, astronomer at Rice University.

“You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.”



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