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Christmas Star and Dark Skies

Christmas Star and Dark Skies

Posted in: Education, Nature on December 19, 2020.

The Great Conjunction

You’ve probably seen all the news articles this month about the “Great Conjunction.” But in case you’ve missed it, on the 21st of December, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to form one bright, new star in the night sky. This conjunction of the planets only happens ever 800 years or so, so naturally everyone is talking about it. And since it will be happening on the winter solstice, it’s being dubbed the “Christmas Star.” And all this talk about the conjunction of the planets got us thinking about where is the best place in Southern Utah to observe this Christmas Star, and for that matter, any and all celestial phenomenon.

Dark night sky with sandstone formations in the front

Photo by Robert Hill via unsplash.com

Dark Skies for Everyone

Luckily for us, there is an organization that helps promote and protect the best places in the world to stargaze. Enter the International Dark-Sky Association. They strive to prevent light pollution from ruining our chances at seeing stars, meteor showers, Great Conjunctions and anything else going on up there. They work with local communities and municipalities, national and state parks, and with areas under development to make sure there are places where we can all go to stargaze. And, it turns out, a lot of those International Dark-Sky Places are located here in Southern Utah. Which means that we might just have the best locations for viewing the Christmas Star. Here’s a brief list of some of the places that you might consider visiting this 21st of December, and also any other time that you want to see the night sky in all its glory. (You can also go here to see the complete list of Dark-Sky Places, because not everyone can be in Southern Utah this solstice.)

  • Arches National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • The Town of Torrey, Utah
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Two stargazers look to the night sky as the sun sets

Photo by Brooke Lark via unsplash.com

Where to Look For the Great Conjunction

Okay so if you can make it to one of these International Dark-Sky Place on Monday the 21st, where should you look to see the Great Conjunction? It will be occurring in the the southwestern sky near the horizon line, so make sure you have an un-obstructed view to the southwest (no trees, no mountains, etc.). You should be able to see the two planets coming together shortly after sunset. But the Great Conjunction won’t last long. Jupiter and Saturn will have set approximately two-and-a-half hours after the sun goes down.

So grab your telescopes, binoculars, blankets, coats, and provisions. Maybe grab a star chart, or download a stargazing app. Then find a good location in a Dark-Sky Place, and enjoy a few hours with the new Christmas Star!

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