Backyard Observatory

Jupiter & Saturn Will 'Kiss' Tonight in the Great Conjunction. Here's How to See It.

Get ready for the planetary 'kiss,' or 'Christmas star.'

By now you've probably heard about the great conjunction, or maybe you heard it referred to as the "double planet" or the "Christmas star." Either way, there's a lot of excitement surrounding this once-in-a-lifetime event that will be taking place in the sky on Monday night for the first time in several hundred years.

Jupiter and Saturn will meet—almost appearing as one light—in the evening sky for a conjunction or close pass on the night of December 21. It's often referred to as a great conjunction because of the infrequency of their meeting. (At least, "meet" from our perspective on Earth. They'll still be separated by millions of miles.) A conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn takes place a little less than once every 20 years. Even then, they aren't always visible, and they're rarely this close. The last time Saturn and Jupiter had a close encounter this close and visible was all the way back in 1226, per EarthSky.

So, you're in for a treat. That is, as long as your local weather doesn't bitterly disappoint. Saturn and Jupiter will meet in the sky, almost appearing as a double planet to the naked eye. And if you look through a telescope, they'll be so close together that both will be visible together in the same frame.

Here's what you need to know to be sure you don't miss the great conjunction. 

How to see the great conjunction

This once-in-a-lifetime sighting will only be visible for a short while. Jupiter and Saturn rise while the sun is up and won't be visible. You'll be able to see them as the sun sets. That time will vary based on where you're located, but it'll be close to 4:30 pm. (It's 4:47 pm in Los Angeles and 4:32 pm in Minneapolis, for instance.)

From that time until the gas giants set, the pair will be visible together in the night sky. The set time, per In the Sky, will be around 7:10 pm. Though, as the planets descend, they may become obscured even earlier depending on what's on your horizon. 

To get a good view, look to the southwest after sunset and find the brightest "star" in the sky. That will be the "double planet" of Jupiter and Saturn. You'll want to get to a spot with a clear view along the southwest horizon because the planets are not going to appear high in the sky. 

Additionally, the view will be better if you can get somewhere with dark skies. Inside a city, you'll likely still be able to see the planets because they're so bright, but the view will be more spectacular the darker the skies around you are. Dark Site Finder can help you find a place near you since it's surprisingly hard if not borderline impossible to escape the light pollution throughout much of the country. 

Hope for good weather, and don't miss this. You aren't going to have to survive centuries to see the largest planets in our solar system come together again, but you are going to have to wait until 2080.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.
  
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