SALT LAKE CITY – With over a dozen Dark Sky international parks and even two Dark Sky communities, Utah is one of the best places to be on the shortest day of the year.
There are plenty of places throughout the state where you can get a great view of the stars when the sun goes down. That being said, you won’t have to venture too far to see a special cosmic event that hasn’t been visible in nearly 400 months.
Those interested in seeing the night sky on the first day of winter seem lucky when it comes to cloud cover.
Want to see the “Christmas Star” in Utah? You’re lucky
Utahns will be among those able to see a rare cosmic treatment of “great conjunction” visible Monday night, as Jupiter and Saturn will be close enough to the sky to appear almost as one. Some have called it the “Christmas Star” because it is a large, bright, new star in the sky, similar to the biblical description of the night Jesus Christ was born. The rare fusion of the night planets of the two planets has not happened since 1623.
“It’s a rare event,” Patrick Wiggins, UAH’s solar system ambassador to Utah, said last week. “I warned that people don’t expect a really lightning-fast event,” Wiggins said. “But it’s something that doesn’t happen that often.”
It is the second once-in-a-lifetime show visible in this year’s dark sky behind comet NEOWISE, which was first seen in summer for over 6,000 years. Unlike comets, you won’t have to travel in lower light areas to get a good view.
It is something that people can enjoy in their backyards.
Cloud cover is, of course, the biggest obstacle to any single event in the night sky. That’s not expected to be a major issue for Utah on Monday night. It is one of the few occasions when a high pressure pattern is welcome in the state in the winter months.
“We expect clear skies tonight, which is essential. It’s the conjunction of the planet – that bright star, that ‘Christmas Star’ that will be visible tonight,” KSL meteorologist Grant Weyman said during a forecast Monday morning. .
Mitch Bolen, of the Utah Valley Astronomy Club, explained that the best viewing hours are between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. The conjunction will be visible in the southwestern part of the sky at about 16 degrees above the horizon, he added. It will end at around 18:30 on Monday.
Some clouds are expected to roll in northern Utah and the Wasatch Front Monday night, but should not completely cover the sky. It is estimated that they will be cleared until late at night from Monday to early Tuesday morning. A storm system that will bring more clouds and potentially some snow to the region is not expected to run until later on Tuesday.
How much cloud coverage are we talking about? Not much in all of Utah. The forecast of the National Meteorological Service’s cloud cover indicates that most of the sky will be visible during peak viewing hours. Clearer skies can be found in central and southern Utah.
I had a few questions about visualizing the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. For those interested, here is the forecast for the percentage of sky coverage on Monday evening. pic.twitter.com/22HSxkyMQp
– NWS Salt Lake City (@NWSSaltLakeCity) December 21, 2020
On Monday starting at 11 am, here is how the weather forecast forecast cloud cover between 17:00 and 19:00 on Monday:
- Mixture: 10-15%
- City of Brigham: 35%
- Cedar City: 5%
- Farmington: 30%
- Fillmore: 5%
- Logan: 35%
- Moab: 10-15%
- Price: 35%
- Price: 10%
- Test: 20%
- Salt Lake City: 30%
- St. George: 10%
- Tooele: 30%
- Vernal: 30-40%
Come for the conjunction, stay for the rest of the stars
For those who would like to enjoy watching the night sky for the rest of the winter solstice, the weather service projects relatively low cloud cover in northern Utah through the Wasatch Front Monday night through early Tuesday morning. Places like Logan, Brigham City, Ogden, Farmington, Salt Lake City and Provo will range from 15% to 40% in those periods with slightly more cloud cover in the more northern parts of the state.
The sky in central and southern Utah will be even clearer. Weather forecast for areas such as St. George, Cedar City, Fillmore, Richfield, Blanding and Moab range from 5% to 25%. Southwestern and central Utah is where the lowest cloud cover rates have been forecast, which means there is a high probability that there will be virtually no clouds in the sky Monday night through early Tuesday morning.
Eastern Utah is where the highest cloud cover was forecast. For example, coverage could reach 40% to 50% in Vernal. However, clouds are not expected to cover most of the sky in the state on Monday evening or early Tuesday morning.
For anyone looking for the full “dark sky” experience, Utah has many Dark Sky certified international parks. These are the Sky Dark International Parks in Utah:
Torrey and Helper are now also Sky Dark Sky certified international communities. There are areas where dark skies are kept, and opportunities to look at the stars, such as the view of the Milky Way, are better than areas full of light pollution.