What You May Not Know About Winter Solstice

Amid the whirl of the holiday season, many are vaguely aware of the approach of the winter solstice — translated as “sun stands still." The date of the winter solstice varies from year to year and can fall anywhere between December 20 and December 23. This year, it happens to be on December 21. Not only does the solstice occur on a specific day, but it also occurs at a specific time of day — this year at precisely 5:02 a.m. EST. The winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year for the northern hemisphere. Regardless of what the weather is doing outside your window, the solstice marks the official start of winter. The 2020 "Christmas Star" will be a great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21, when the two planets will appear at their closest in centuries. It will be the closest they’ve come since 1623 and they won’t be so extra-close again until March 15, 2080. However, it’s not going to look like those thousands of Christmas cards showing the enormous starburst over the manger in Bethlehem. To the naked eye, they may look like one extra bright star, but using binoculars or a telescope will show them as two very distinct objects, though very close. Both planets shine steadily, rather than twinkling like stars.