The Great Conjunction rarely happens, only about every 400 years or so, according to Scientists. When Saturn and Jupiter come close to each other, they appear as one star and give off a brighter appearance.
It’s such a rare event, depending on the source, the chance meeting happens about every 400 or 800 years. You may be thinking, that’s quite a difference in time span. What factors make the difference? The difference seems to be whether you view a conjunction or a Great Conjunction. Great Conjunctions happen on the day the winter solstice occurs. At the end of 2020, depending on where you live and ripe conditions, you may be able to view the Christmas Star.
Space says your viewing of the spectacle may be altered by where you live. If you’re lucky enough to have viewed the conjunction, you may be one of few people to have had the pleasure. The conditions have to be just right. According to NASA astronomer Henry Throop:
“If you missed out on the main event, the rare ‘Christmas Star’ won’t appear again until 2080. As a consolation, you can still see Jupiter and Saturn close together for the entire month of December.”
My family enjoyed viewing the star, and its appearance changed quickly. Just after sunset, we went outside to locate the moon in the northwest sky. Sure enough, there was Saturn and Jupiter, nearly on top of each other, shining as more brightly than we had ever laid eyes on them. By the time we got back in the car and drove around the neighborhood to view Christmas lights, the stars had already separated a noticeable distance. We mused about how it came to be in the first place.
Christmas Star as seen by the naked eye: Photo by author
There’s a myth that the Christmas Star is the Star of Bethlehem. Scientists can’t explain the bright star that adorns Christmas cards with nativity scenes that led the three wise men to travel to Jerusalem and onto Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus was born. What is known is that the star was not a comet or a supernova. Grant Mathews, a professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, says:
“For Christmas cards, it makes a nice picture having a comet and a tail but in those days comets up in the sky were usually a harbinger of impending disaster.”
Mathews goes on to say:
“You can’t follow a star from Baghdad to Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Stars don’t do that. They rise and set, and they don’t sit in the sky.”
The Magi likely would have walked in a circle if they followed the path of a star. In his book The Star of Bethlehem, Michael Molnar suggests any number of conjunctions could have been responsible for the sighting.
In the particular trying year of 2020, I’d prefer to believe that the appearance of the Great Conjunction was perfectly timed, not just as a timely guide for the ancient Magi, but for us to have hope. The year has been hopeless for so many people. I want to think that the brightest star in the sky symbolizes that good things are ahead as we look forward to a new year. May the star illustrate for you, and for me, that great things are ahead and our future will be filled with bright and beautiful things.
Sure, it could be a coincidence, but I don’t believe in coincidences. How about you?