• Neal an Teresa Kaufman

Dark Sky and The Christmas Star

The map entirely covering our kitchen table had come in the latest edition of National Geographic. Both sides were filled with symbols decoding one of the most beautiful landscapes—the night sky. Constellations like Ursa Major—The Great Bear, and Taurus, my sign!, dazzled my little kid brain.

My dad looked over the map with me, showing me the different groups of stars we’d already seen together like the Big and Little dippers, and Orion’s Belt. After dark, we went out to look for other constellations in the sky. That was back when the Milky Way was still visible from our Seattle suburb.

These days, it's hard to see even the brightest of stars from developed areas. In some major cities, its impossible to see any of them due to light pollution. For the solar eclipse in 2017, friends came to watch it here at Sly Owl Ranch and brought a buddy from NYC. We all camped out that night and I’ll never forget his awe at seeing the night sky. He’d never seen the full magnitude of it all, and I think he was almost more impressed with the stars than the eclipse!

It is truly dark here at night, and the light show is spectacular. I've loved viewing the stars since I was a kid and its one of the reasons I love living in Garden Valley. Our town is listed on EarthySky’s “places to stargaze” and while not technically within its boundaries, we border the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve. The only light pollution comes from the moon and, in the winter, moon glow reflecting off the snow. Most nights, the stars, planets, and meteors put on a thrilling show.

Jupiter and Saturn. The Christmas Star

This month, we are being treated to a special celestial occurrence. The planets Jupiter and Saturn are aligning together in the sky, an event called a conjunction. It happens every 20 years, but with this particular conjunction, the last time these planets were this close together was in the 1200s! From our perspective here on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn will look as if they are practically touching.

You can already see them now, distinctively shining in the west just above the horizon after dusk. Over the next two weeks, Jupiter and Saturn continue to move together, with peak alignment on December 21. At this peak, the planets’ nearness will create a wonder—a collective burst of light known as The Christmas Star, or Star of Bethlehem. December 21 happens to also be the solstice.

With 2020 as challenging of a year as it has been, its wonderful to have something to look forward to. This special planetary event seems a worthy of a celebration, so bundle up, find yourself a dark place with a good western view of the sky, sit back and soak it up.

As of this writing, the yurt is available on the 21st! Book your stay and take in the dark sky view from the yurt deck!

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