Some believe that the Biblical tale of the Star of Bethlehem may have been a planetary conjunction.
December brings the season of joy. It's a time to reconnect with family and shower them with love. It's the time to be grateful for the things we have and the people who continue to be a part of our lives. And it turns out, December 2020 is also a great time to remind ourselves of the marvels of this world. Whenever we forget that the blue dot we live on is actually an amazing phenomenon, something incredible happens to remind us of that.
This winter solstice, on December 21, which will also be the darkest day of 2020, the Great Conjunction will brighten up our night sky. A conjunction is when two objects line up in the sky. Two of the biggest planets in our solar system will be closer together than they have been in centuries, as per NBC News. Jupiter and Saturn are going to appear closest to Earth on the winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.
The ‘Christmas Star’ on Dec. 21 will be the closest visible conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 800 years. https://t.co/BXigFne9Bb— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 8, 2020
Why is the conjunction of the two planets called the Christmas Star? Some believe that the Biblical tale of the Star of Bethlehem may have been a planetary conjunction. However, two thousand years ago, the planets closest to Earth were Venus and Jupiter and not Jupiter and Saturn. Legendary German astronomer Johannes Kepler believes that the Star of Bethlehem in the story of the Magi or the "three wise men" may have been a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus, according to Forbes.
The wise men, or magi in the original Greek, represented as kings, could have been astrologers who saw the astronomical event as a foretelling of Christ's birth, writes Forbes. The Star of Bethlehem is referred to in the opening verses of the Gospel of Matthew.
The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn has not taken place in nearly 800 years. The last time it was observed was on March 4, 1226. Does it make you feel special? It should, after all, no human alive has seen this before. In 1623, the Great Conjunction had taken place but it was too close to sunset and it may not have been visible, as per EarthSky.
Why is this astronomical event special when Jupiter and Saturn meet every 20 years, like old friends passing by? On December 21, the two gas giants will be just 0.1° apart — 1/5 of a full moon diameter. The next time this will take place will be on March 15, 2080.
The timing has brought the name “Christmas Star.” Some have pointed to it as an astronomical explanation for the biblical “Star of Bethlehem,” which is said to have been connected to the birth of Jesus, and now serves as a symbol of the season. https://t.co/gSDA1szNm8— Toronto Star (@TorontoStar) December 7, 2020
"... This conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to be to one another," said Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University, to Forbes. "You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky," he added.
This rare event will be visible from anywhere in the world as long as the sky is clear. The planets will show up low in the western sky for almost an hour after sunset when seen from the northern hemisphere.