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‘Star of Bethlehem’ to grace the sky at Christmas

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*Jupiter, Saturn will conjoin as brightly shining ‘double planet’ for the first time in 800 years on December 21

The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, will appear closer to each other in the night sky during Christmas week than at any point in the past 800 years, astronomers say.

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Both gas giants, have been gradually getting closer to one another since the start of summer and will appear almost like a double planet system on December 21.

According to a report first published in DailyMailUK, the phenomenon, known as a conjunction, can be viewed anywhere on Earth but from the United Kingdom (UK) they will be very low on the horizon – seen just after sunset.

At their closest position, the two worlds will appear less than a full moon’s width apart – just after sunset on the winter solstice and up until about Christmas Day.

German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, wrote in 1614 that he believed the ‘star of Bethlehem’ in the Nativity story could have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

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Others have suggested that the ‘three wise men’ could have been following the triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

While Venus won’t be visible as part of the 2020 conjunction, it will still be an impressive astronomical site, best viewed on the equator but seen worldwide.

The next time that Jupiter and Saturn will seem as close in the sky will not be until March 15, 2080 — at which they will be higher in the sky and visible for longer.

The next such conjunction of the two bodies, after that, will not be until sometime after the year 2400.

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The celestial sight should — local weather permitting — be visible from anywhere on the Earth, experts said, although the best views are to be had near the equator. “On the evening of closest approach on Dec 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only 1/5th the diameter of the full moon,” said US astronomer Patrick Hartigan added. “For most telescope viewers, each planet and several of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”

The Star of Bethlehem, or the Christmas Star, is said to have inspired the three wise men from the East to visit the baby Jesus in bible stories.

It appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where they are said to have asked King Herod of Judea ‘where is he who has been born King of the Jews’ For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’

It is said the star led them to Jesus’ hometown where they worshipped him and gave him gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh.

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The gospel describes the visitors as ‘Magi’, which is usually translated as ‘wise men’ but can also be used to mean astronomer/astrologer.

Astronomers have made several attempts to calculate what this star may have been – whether it was a celestial event or pious fiction.

Famed German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, wrote in 1614 that he believed the ‘star of Bethlehem’ in the biblical story of the three wise men could have been rare triple conduction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

This would create a very bright point of light in the sky that would only appear for a few days. Similar conjunction is due to happen in Christmas 2020.

Other theories are a supernova explosion reasonably close – that could appear like a very bright sky for a relatively short period, or even a comet.

Chinese and Korean stargazers have written about a bright object that may have been a comet or supernova around 5 BC seen for more than 70 days.

Ancient astronomers have written of comets ‘hanging over’ specific cities – just as the Star of Bethlehem is said to have ‘stood over’ the place where Jesus was born – the town of Bethlehem.

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