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For Historic Planetary Alignment, Utahns May Have Better View Than Most

A low, amber-colored street light illuminates a handful of trees beneath a starry sky.
David Fuchs
Utah leads the world international dark-sky places as recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association. In 2019, the small city of Ivins, shown above, in the southwest corner of the state tried to join the list.

Monday marked a historic event in the cosmos — the first time in 800 years that Saturn and Jupiter aligned in the night sky.

According to a NASA press release, the two “gas giants” will look so close together, when seen from Earth, that a “pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky.”

And for this unique moment in the universe, Utahns may have a better view than most.

“Utah is just totally unique compared to so much of the rest of the world,” said Mary Bedingfieldsmith of the state’s abundance of starry skies.

Bedingfieldsmith helped the small central Utah community of Torrey become the state’s first “International Dark Sky Community” in 2018. The designation comes from the International Dark-Sky Association and is awarded to places that demonstrate “exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky.”

The state now has more designated dark sky places — which includes parks, sanctuaries and communities — than anywhere else in the world. It’s a unique position to hold at a time when 80% of Americans can’t see the Milky Way.

Any Utahn with a clear view of the horizon should be able to take advantage of the state’s dark skies to watch tonight’s event, according to Rodger Fry, director of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society’s observatory at Stansbury Park.

All you have to do is look to the southwest after sunset — between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. — roughly 25 degrees above the horizon, he said.

He added Jupiter will be visible during that window as a small, bright star. Saturn will join, too, appearing as a dimmer star just beside it.

“Today is the only time that anyone living right now will have the opportunity to see those two planets that close together,” Fry said. “It’s a real thrill.”

With a good pair of binoculars, you should even be able to make out the planets’ moons, he added.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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