Jupiter and Saturn: Great conjunction discussed by experts
Shortly after the Sun sets this afternoon, a bright ‘Christmas Star’ will appear next to the Moon. However, the celestial body is not a star in the typical sense, but rather the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Despite the planets being more than 400 million miles from one another, they have the appearance that they are next to each other from Earth’s perspective.
The alignment of the planets, known as the Great Conjunction, happens every 20 years on average, but this is the closest they have been in 400 years, appearing just 0.1 degrees apart in the sky.
However, you have to go back 800 years for the last time they were so close and entered conjunction after sunset – the only time the planets can be visible.
In times of old, people may not have understood that a seemingly new appearance of a star may have been a planetary conjunction, which has led some to believe the Great Conjunction could be attributed to the Star of Bethlehem.
According to the Bible, a star appeared in the eastern sky which guided the three wise men to the stable where Jesus Christ was born to shower him in gifts.
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In Matthew 2:9, it says: “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
In astronomical terms, there is no star which matches the description of the Star of Bethlehem.
This leaves astronomers with two feasible options and one miraculous one.
Either a star did appear out of nowhere to guide the three wise men, or there was no star at all and the account is fictional, or a rare astronomical event took place which could have been misconstrued as a star – such as the Great Conjunction.
According to astronomical records, there were several conjunctions between 6 and 5BC.
One of these involved Jupiter and Mars, and the other being Jupiter and Saturn.
This tells scientists that if the story of Christ is true, in scientific terms the Star of Bethlehem may have been a conjunction with Jupiter and another planet.
Earth Sky astronomers Larry Sessions and Deborah Byrd said: “There is some uncertainty about the use of the word for star in the Greek manuscript.
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“Some contend that the word could have meant or implied an object other than a physical star.
“There’s even some possibility that Jupiter was involved in the original ‘Christmas star’ story.
“Some believe the Christmas star was really a conjunction – or close meeting – of Jupiter with two other planets, Saturn and Mars.
“Planets were ‘wandering stars’ to the ancients, and to many they bore great astrological or mystical significance.
“Astronomers know that there was a series of such conjunctions in six and five BC, occurring in the constellation Pisces (the Fishes), said by some to be the astrological ‘sign of the Jews.’
“To add more credence for later Christian writers such as Matthew, the sign of a fish later became the secret sign for Christians.”
So there is a chance the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ does appear tonight – but it is not miraculous, rather a cosmic phenomenon which scientists now have a better understanding of than they did 2,000 years ago.
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