The Christmas Star

Sky Gazing

Sunday, December 13, 2020

We weren’t here in the early hours of March 4, 1226 when Jupiter and Saturn entered “the great conjunction” in amazingly record-setting close proximity.  And not all of us will be here on March 15, 2080 when it happens again.  But we are here now, and on December 21st the planets will align in their closest configuration since that recorded day in 1226. 

Although the planets draw close to each other every 20 years or so, they rarely align so closely as to appear to be a single planet.  So, in this very unusual year of 2020, we have the opportunity to witness history and revel in the joy of the Christmas Star.  The great conjunction will be visible just over the horizon and the two planets will be closest to each other on December 21st  before moving apart again!!! 

We’ll have several days to witness the planets setting-up for this event but pay attention to the timing.  The grand finale is on the 21st!!!  You want to look southwest just above the horizon.  When the sun sets, make a fist and line up the bottom of your hand with the horizon where the sun went down; the top of your hand will be just about where Jupiter will appear.  Jupiter will be the brightest star in the sky.  Saturn will be less bright.  Within 45 minutes of sunset, you should see the Christmas Star form.  Now remember, the planets are coming together but they are not merging.  You will see two distinct objects.  And you need a clear viewing area.  Because this is taking place close to the horizon, any obstructions like trees or buildings will hide your view.

Jupiter and Saturn (NASA image)

Jupiter and Saturn are currently moving towards each other. On December 21st, after sunset, look southwest. You’ll see Jupiter and Saturn converging just above the horizon. (NASA/JPL-Caltech image)

This is a rendering of the night sky above Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth. Just imagine how these two planets must have looked to the citizens of that time!!!

Now let’s talk about the Christmas Star, aka the Star of Bethlehem.  This where the story gets interesting.  Did you know that the date of birth for Jesus has never been definitively determined???  Not the year; not even the day.  So the New Testament, particularly the Gospel According to Matthew, has been studied intently.  That is where the story of the nativity has been most detailed.  We all know of the three wise men who traveled to Bethlehem by following a brilliant star.  It is thought those Magi were astronomers and astrologists of their day.  Today, there is great speculation and debate over what that “star” actually was.  Could have been a comet, could have been a nova or supernova, could have been a planetary conjunction.  Planetary conjunction seems to be the most favored explanation.  And there is evidence that a great conjunction took place “around the time estimated as the birth of Jesus” between Jupiter and Saturn!!!

Star gazing was serious business in ancient times. Astronomers and astrologists were revered. (image: David González de Murcia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)
Ahhh, the Bethlehem Star as interpreted in art!!!

So, let’s think about this.  This year, on December 21st (the day of the Winter Solstice, our shortest day of the year) we will have the rare privilege of viewing an amazing event.  An event documented in the Bible!  An event that is believed to have heralded the birth of Jesus!  The event that proclaimed……”on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Now how wonderful is that?!?

The RovingRaconteurs wish you all a very Merry Christmas!!!

We wish you Comfort, Joy, Peace, and Good Will

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