Kathy Damron, a Topeka-based yoga instructor, has always found comfort and beauty in hikes and a variety of other outdoor activities.

Damron is hoping others find that connection when they join her on a winter solstice hike Monday, Dec. 21, at Cedar Crest.

The hike will start 4 p.m. and participants will meet at MacLennan Park Trails at Cedar Crest, 1 S.W. Cedar Crest Road, before embarking on a short hike on the trails. The hike is open to anyone and all levels of walkers and hikers. The wearing of masks is encouraged.

Damron said she anticipates the hike will last about 45 minutes to one hour, and attendees are invited to bring a chair, warm clothes and a flashlight for a socially distanced gathering afterward.

“I’ve always enjoyed this time of year for not only the seasonal aspect of the holidays, but also just the beauty that comes about outside,” Damron said. “When the air gets a little cooler and drier, the sunrises and sunsets in Kansas are truly remarkable. The colors are more vivid and as we get closer to winter solstice, because of the way the earth aligns with the sun, the sunsets actually last a little longer so you might notice in the afternoon the colors get a little softer.”

This year’s winter solstice will be a unique experience as Jupiter and Saturn will reach almost complete alignment for the first time in nearly 800 years.

According to The Associated Press, when they align this closely, the two planets will appear to form a single bright star, also known as the “Christmas Star.”

The last occurrence of this type of planetary alignment happened in 1226, said Patrick Hartigan, Rice University astronomer.

Jupiter and Saturn will move closer together over the next two weeks leading up to Dec. 21. Those searching for the “Christmas Star” will be able to see it by looking to the southwest as the sun sets.

While planetary alignments aren’t a rare occurrence, the Associated Press reported, this particular type of alignment isn’t common due to how close the planets will appear to the naked eye.

NASA predicts the next time an alignment of this magnitude occurs will be in 60 years, then another 320 years after that.

Damron is hoping to witness the Christmas Star during the winter solstice hike at Cedar Crest.

“I’m hoping people, even if they leave (the hike), that by the time they get home they can look outside and see it,” Damron said. “It should be really spectacular.”

Damron said she hopes the hike creates an avenue for community members to safely gather amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think more than anything else, I just want people to take away from the experience a sense of gratitude for community, for one another,” Damron said. “Being outside, even if you’re outside and you don’t know another person that’s on the hike or you’re just taking a walk and you don’t really know the other people, just having that ability to connect with people I think can be deeply gratifying and booth people’s overall sense of well-being.

“It’s a richer experience than I think people oftentimes imagine until they start spending time outside hiking or waking or riding their bike. It’s a wonderful resource that’s available to all of us.”

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