For the very first time in nearly eighty decades, our Solar System’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will align to form a “double planet,” which is being referred to as the “Christmas Star.”
NASA recently explained that throughout the week of Christmas — particularly on Dec. 21 — Jupiter and Saturn will appear a tenth of a degree apart. Astronomers are comparing this distance to the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length.
“This means the two planets and their moons will be visible in the same field of view through binoculars or a small telescope. In fact, Saturn will appear as close to Jupiter as some of Jupiter’s moons,” astronomers at NASA detailed.
This approaching event will be the “greatest” conjunction — when two celestial bodies line up in the sky — between the two giant planets for the next 60 years.
Well-known German astronomer Johannes Kepler postulated that the star of Bethlehem recording in the Bible may have been a triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.
The Gospel of Matthew says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (2:1-2).
David Weigel, director of the INTUITIVE Planetarium at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, said Kepler was the “first person who really understood how orbital mechanics worked.” The German astronomer discovered that “these objects traced elliptical paths through space.”
“Once he was able to figure out the equations that governed this, he was able to trace time back a little bit and try to understand what things were like in the past,” Weigel said.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Jupiter and Saturn will be low in the western sky. From Dec. 21 until around Christmas Day, the conjunction will be easily seen right at sunset. Weigel suggests having “as clear a view as possible” of the western sky.
“People really get excited about some things that are not a huge deal, and they don’t get excited about things that are a huge deal. I think this is in the middle…,” Weigel said.
“It is brighter than normal, a neat thing astronomically [and] not going to be close to this bright until 2080. In most people’s lifetimes, it’s not going to get any better than this with Jupiter and Saturn coming close together,” he added.
Jim Denison, co-founder of the Denison Forum, which helps Christians “engage with the issues and news of the day,” said the appearance of the Christmas Star gives believers an occasion to be amazed at God’s creation.
“Even though these planets will appear as small dots in our sky, they are actually huge.” Quoting Oswald Chambers he continued, “When we choose deliberately to obey him, then, with all his almighty power, he will tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand to assist us.”