ST. GEORGE – Something special is happening in the sky this month, a spectacle known as the “Christmas Star”, which will appear just a few days before the holiday.
The poinsettia is actually a dynamic planetary conjunction that can easily be seen in the evening sky for the next two weeks. Jupiter and Saturn will come closer together – culminating in an astronomical spectacle on the night of December 21, the winter solstice.
Such an event, called the “Jupiter-Saturn Great Conjunction”, takes place every 20 years. The last time this happened was in 2000, but that event pale in comparison to what is happening this year, as the planets didn’t seem that close to each other then.
It is also called the “Star of Bethlehem” because of its brightness, similar to the star that is said to have led the three wise men to Bethlehem.
Throughout December, the planets will get closer every night. In Southern Utah, the pair will be easily spotted with the naked eye by looking low in the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset. Jupiter will be the bright spot and Saturn will appear fainter.
Jupiter and Saturn will be so close together in the western sky that they appear as one bright point of light to the naked eye. While the planets may appear to overlap, Saturn and Jupiter will not be literally close to each other, as both are huge planets – each about 760-1,300 times the size of Earth – and still hundreds of millions of miles apart.
At the closest point of alignment, Jupiter and Saturn will appear only one-tenth of a degree apart for a single night, December 21, and will appear so close that it only takes an arm’s length little finger to cover both planets.
A video with footage provided by NASA can be viewed at the top of this report.
Although the great conjunction occurs in one day, both planets are “very close and will remain unusually close until the end of the year,” according to the Sky Report from the Stellar Vista Observatory.
The planets appear close together because of their orbits, paths that are not a perfect circle. So when both planets and the Earth reach a certain point on their journey, the alignment makes them appear close to each other from Earth.
The air report also says that Jupiter is spinning faster than Saturn because it is closer to the sun, making them point in the same direction in the sky from Earth. What makes this year’s alignment so incredible is the distance of the separation between the planets at the point of conjunction and the close encounter on December 21st, which hasn’t happened since 1623. But even in 1623 it would almost have been. impossible to see as it was surpassed by the setting sun.
John Mosley told St. George News that according to his calculations it would have been extremely difficult to see if they could have seen it at all, although astronomers would have calculated what was going on.
The conjunction would have been very different 400 years earlier when the position of the two gas giants seemingly converged into a bright star in the dark night sky on December 21, 1226, according to Astronomy.com.
The Christmas Star – aka the Star of Bethlehem
For centuries, scientists and scholars have debated the nature of this Biblical light. It is said that a possible explanation for the Star of Bethlehem is the three deaths of Jupiter and Saturn between May and December in 7 BC. Is, which was considered a rare triple conjunction and would have created quite the spectacle.
But whether it was enough to send three wise men on a journey of hundreds of miles across deserts, mountains and barren terrain to see what happened in Bethlehem seems unlikely, according to Phys.org.
Moreover, the conjunction that took place then was not nearly as clear as what will occur this year, and there are many other factors that contribute to the ancient record of the events that took place on that starry night more than twenty centuries ago.
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