Rare celestial event to bring ‘Star of Bethlehem’ to our skies for Christmas Winter Solstice

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

In this strange year that is 2020, we could get to witness something likely to bring a little extra joy to this Christmas season. According to NASA.com, what has become known as the Christmas Star is a planetary line up that just may allow us to harken back several generations – to the true beginning of the Season.

In technical terms, what is expected to peak on the Winter Solstice is actually a “planetary conjunction” that is currently aligning in the evening sky as the planets of Jupiter and Saturn come together. This creates what will appear as a giant star in the night sky. The crossover will culminate on the night of Monday, Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice, the official beginning of winter.

According to Nasa.com, in 1623, the solar system’s two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, traveled together across the sky. Jupiter caught up to, and passed, Saturn in an astronomical event known as a “Great Conjunction.” Henry Throop, an astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said we will be able to see Jupiter on the inside lane as it approaches Saturn all month long, but it will finally overtake it on Dec. 21, 2020, giving the appearance of a giant star in the sky.

Although conjunctions happen quite often, it has been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other and nearly 800 years since it occurred at night allowing everybody to actually see it. It is not expected to happen again until 2080.

What could make it special in Monroe, Ga. is that on the Historic Courthouse lawn at the moment between 6 – 8 p.m. is the annual Live Nativity. A realistic re-enactment of what the Bible tells us happened more than 101 generations ago could make for a very special ending to the Year 2020 here in Monroe.

According to Weather.com, the skies over Monroe are expected to be clear on Monday night. For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s Nasa’s instructions on what to do: 

  • Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
  • An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
  • The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.

On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer in Earth’s night sky than they have since 1226 A.D. You can watch the event live here, courtesy of Lowell Observatory. 

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