Monday, December 21, 2020

Star of Bethlehem replay tonight?

'TIS THE SEASON, ASTRONOMICAL EDITION: Will the Biblical Star of Bethlehem appear in the sky ahead of Christmas? On December 21, our solar system's two biggest planets will come within close proximity of one another, in what is known as a great conjunction (Jerusalem Post).

I noted the story earlier here. And I see now that I should read my own posts more. I said in that post that no one was suggesting a connection between the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction and the Star of Bethlehem. In fact, just such a conjunction is one of the astronomical explanations for the star. There was even a candidate event in 7 BCE. Another possibility is a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. One such happened in July of 2015, but it was not close enough to make them look like one star.

The Star of Bethlehem does not sound much like a planetary conjunction to me. That would look like a single star for only brief period, if at all. The account in Matthew 2:2, 9-10 describes it as a single star that the Magi followed for some time. I'm sticking with the explanation that the star is a midrashic legend.

Fortunately, last night was reasonably clear in Fife, Scotland. I got a good view of the conjunction at sundown, just before 5:00 pm local time. Jupiter was a very bright unblinking star on the horizon. Saturn was a tiny one just above it. I took photos, but none were good enough to show Saturn. If your sky is clear tonight, be sure and have a look.

Happy winter solstice to all those celebrating!

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