Viewing the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ tonight – the Great Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction

Jupiter and Saturn are about to have their closest conjunction in modern history. Don’t miss this once-in-a-millennium event.

In an event that hasn’t occurred in 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn will line up to create a bright “star” in the sky known as the “Christmas Star” or the “Star of Bethlehem”.

What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky from our vantage point, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will tonight, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction”.

Tonight, the two planets will be just 0.1 degrees apart in the western sky–so close that some people will perceive them as a single brilliant “star”.

Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University, told Forbes.

Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to be to one another…

You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.

Stargazers in the northern hemisphere should turn their heads and telescopes to the southwest portion of the sky about 30-45 minutes after sunset to see the two planets. They will be low on the horizon, and will disappear later in the evening as they slip below the horizon.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It would look like this, only closer tonight in the USA:

Taken by Heiko Ulbricht  on December 21, 2020 @ Opitz hill, Saxony, Germany

If you have a small telescope or binoculars, the view might look like this:

And if you have a bigger telescope, and the means, you might see this:

Taken by Christopher Go  on December 21, 2020 @ Philippines.

For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s 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.
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lance wallace
December 21, 2020 11:03 am

The question arises of how close they were in the year 0. (Shepherds knew a lot about the night sky and would have known these two “stars” behaved differently from virtually all others.)

Gerald Machnee
Reply to  lance wallace
December 21, 2020 11:23 am

Jesus was born about 3-4 BC. There is no year 0.
I am hoping for the cloud to clear.

Derg
Reply to  Gerald Machnee
December 21, 2020 4:01 pm

Me too, stupid global warming and it’s cloud cover

philincalifornia
Reply to  Derg
December 21, 2020 7:19 pm

You’re obviously not virtue-signaling enough. Here in Libtardia, the Oakland/Berkeley Hills, when it first appeared after sunset, it/they were shining through thin clouds, which then cleared.

Jean Meeus
Reply to  Gerald Machnee
December 22, 2020 8:17 am

The historians refuse to use a year 0. But for the astronomers, the year before the year 1 is the year 0, and the year before that is the year -1. There is a difference of one year between the BC years and the astronomers’ years. For example, the year called 585 BC by the historians is actually the year -584.

Bill Parsons
Reply to  lance wallace
December 21, 2020 12:22 pm

This NASA spokesman says three “Star of Bethlehem” events may have occurred in the year 7 BC. That is, three conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter.

https://www.space.com/great-conjunction-jupiter-saturn-2020-fun-facts

comment image
Dr. Buzz Aldrin

@TheRealBuzz
·
Dec 18

Looking forward to seeing Jupiter and Saturn’s closest encounter in nearly 400 years on Monday!

Bill Parsons
Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 21, 2020 6:04 pm

Great viewing near Denver of the conjunction.

Can’t hold still enough to separate moons or rings, but the planets were clear, Jupiter the brighter.

After the main show, I looked across the sky and noticed the Pleiades were dazzling. With binoculars they look like a great big question mark.

Gums
Reply to  lance wallace
December 21, 2020 2:48 pm

Salute!

The thing about the conjunction tonight is that it occurs at the solstice.

So the Maji and others prolly attributed many things to the “coincidence”.

No matter, as it is worth seeing and enjoying.

Gums sends..

MarkW
Reply to  lance wallace
December 21, 2020 4:14 pm

Shepherds spend a lot of time watching the night sky, that doesn’t mean that they would attach the same meaning to a conjunction that others would have.

Erny72
December 21, 2020 11:09 am

Viewing from Norgrey, so predictably this once in 800 year event is totally obscured by cloud. Like the last solar eclipse was: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QriBCMDSd_4

December 21, 2020 11:16 am

Unfortunately, here it rains since early afternoon 🙁

December 21, 2020 11:17 am

Actually the conjunction on July 16, 1623 was even closer [by one arc minute].

Next close conjunction will be on 15 March, 2080.

Paul Penrose
December 21, 2020 11:37 am

I remember the first time I saw Jupiter though my then-new 4″ reflector telescope. I thought it was a bright start as I lined up the instrument using the small sighting scope. I was expecting to see a brighter point source, so was surprised to see a disk with small points of light in a neat line across it. Of course I immediately realize I was looking at the king of planets, but it was still a wondrous experience that I will never forget. Unfortunately it will be overcast here for the next few days, so I will miss the conjunction. But I got lucky with the last solar eclipse, so I guess I can’t complain (too much).

Joe D
Reply to  Paul Penrose
December 21, 2020 8:41 pm

Similar experience here, at age 10, with just a 3″ that I received for Christmas. Christmas night I was just randomly pointing at stars, when I came across Saturn. Seeing it with my own eyes was a lot more impressive than the most beautiful color photograph. And also seeing it move across the view, as I kept having to adjust my telescope, really portrayed the fact that everything is moving.

I recall thinking that the Creator of the Universe cared about me individually.

Vuk
December 21, 2020 12:26 pm

 Christopher Go, Great photo !

High Treason
December 21, 2020 12:32 pm

Sydney is solid cloud and rain for days. We are going to miss out. Have the Fujinon 16 x 70s ready to roll if the clouds miraculously clear at the right time.
Note, in spite of Tim Flannery’s predictions, the dams are at higher levels than last year. The last of the capital cities to reach last year’s levels is Darwin, which relies on monsoonal rain, which is just starting now. Christmas Day I suspect all the major capital cities will have higher dam levels than last Christmas.
Still unhappy that we are going to miss out on the Christmas star. Mind you, a fresh bout of Corona hysteria is going to see us restricted or locked down.

PaulH
December 21, 2020 12:52 pm

Ah, rats, it’ll be cloudy here for the next several days. The latest round of WuFlu lockdowns are being imposed, so it would have been nice to see something good for a change.

Editor
December 21, 2020 1:12 pm

Good Binoculars will show it well, have my 9×63 on hand, but a 7×50 should work fine.

Editor
Reply to  Sunsettommy
December 21, 2020 7:16 pm

I had a good time using the Binoculars, they fitted very nicely in the field of view.

yirgach
December 21, 2020 1:46 pm
Vuk
December 21, 2020 2:00 pm

All this is visually interesting, but of no astronomical consequence.
Important planetary alignment is is in about 14 months time, when the planetary gravitational forces combine to pull sun away from its orbital centre to the maximum possible distance.
Here we can see solar movement during 22 years (two cycles)
http://www.vukcevic.co.uk/BC.gif
(credit: Carsten A. Arnholm)
(

Chris Hanley
Reply to  Vuk
December 21, 2020 4:06 pm

Maybe not astronomically but astrologically:

As Jupiter and Saturn meet in Aquarius for the first time in 615 years, the nature of life on planet Earth changes. The opportunities arising can’t be underestimated.

Exciting times await.

John Endicott
Reply to  Chris Hanley
December 22, 2020 4:07 am

Ancient Chinese Curse (translated to English): May you live in interesting times

Jeff Labute
December 21, 2020 2:21 pm

Anton Petrov implicated Venus, Earth, and Jupiter in the syzygy causing the rayleigh-taylor 11 year instability in the sun. So, Saturn does nothing? Is that the idea? Just seems kind of massive to me.

Anyways, Western Canada – All Snow today

https://youtu.be/tBScyiYIhS4

Kpar
Reply to  Jeff Labute
December 21, 2020 5:24 pm

I posted that same vid on another Wattsupwiththat article last week.

Jeff Labute
Reply to  Kpar
December 21, 2020 8:49 pm

I saw your post 🙂 Great video and thanks for posting it. I appreciate Anton’s work. Can’t help wondering if Saturn is 764 more massive than earth, then what tidal effect does it have on the sun. Probably too difficult to tell.

Vuk
Reply to  Jeff Labute
December 22, 2020 1:40 pm

In gravitational term very little, less than 1.5% of the Jupiter’s effect.
However sunspots are not Newtonian/mass but Maxwellian/electro & magnetic entities. Although magnetic field in the sunspot areas is very strong total solar magnetic dipole is very weak in compassion to either that of the Jupiter or Saturn. Sun ejects mass which is confined within electric and magnetic looped bundles (magnetic rope) which extend far beyond Jupiter or Saturn. There is a strong probability that there is an electric& magnetic feedback between sun and all magnetic planets (including Earth, but due to its size has a limited capacity to have significant influence) which may be related to onset of sunspot cycles.
You can find out more here
“.This not only shows that magnetic reconnection occurs at Saturn but also that Saturn’s magnetic field can at times interact with the Sun …”
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mathematical-physical-sciences/news/2016/jul/magnetic-rope-observed-first-time-between-saturn-and-sun

Vuk
Reply to  Jeff Labute
December 22, 2020 1:48 pm

This image of the northern polar region of Saturn shows both the aurora and underlying atmosphere, seen at two different wavelengths of infrared light as captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. 
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia11396.html

Ed Bo
December 21, 2020 3:14 pm

For reference, the moon is 0.5 degrees across, so the 0.1 degree separation between Jupiter and Saturn should be 1/5 of the diameter of the moon.

littlepeaks
December 21, 2020 4:48 pm

It is very clear this evening in Colorado Springs. Just came inside from viewing the event. All I can say is meh — nothing to write home about. Jupiter is very bright, but Saturn is relatively dim. I am viewing the event with my naked eyes.. My daughter called and said she could see it quite well with her binoculars.

RickWill
December 21, 2020 4:48 pm

This is my shot on 20th December from Melbourne Australia.

P1010181.JPG
Randle Dewees
Reply to  RickWill
December 22, 2020 7:24 am

Your image has proper orientation – as you would see it naked eye, binoculars, or a telescope with terrestrial eyepiece or correcting prism. The telescope image up in the post is pretty rotated CCW. I see all four moons are visible in that image – . PI is way before us in time (-18H?) so that image was taken before closest approach. I could not see Ganymede last night from my California location.

kev170e
December 21, 2020 5:27 pm

From my front yard using my cell phone:

131920859_3487868794583524_4765220678891090949_o.jpg
Bill Parsons
Reply to  kev170e
December 21, 2020 6:07 pm

Pretty cool this platform – that you can post pictures like that. Well done Anthony and team!

Kpar
December 21, 2020 5:27 pm

The clouds rolled in a few hours ago in Chicago, so I missed seeing it with my own eyes.

Very disappointing.

Still, one can hope that today’s “Star of Bethlehem” might re-invigorate some introspection in the United States…

eck
December 21, 2020 6:34 pm

Saw it this evening here near San Jose (CA). Cloud cover to the SW after about 30 minutes. But was spectacular til then.

Mike Middlebrooke
December 21, 2020 6:54 pm

OK, let’s make something clear right off the bat. In the first place, this close Jupiter-Saturn conjunction is a rare event, but not a spectacular one to the naked eye. Jupiter is not even near its brightest, but it is still 10x brighter than Saturn, and their combined light is not noticeably brighter than Jupiter alone. At closest approach, Saturn can barely be seen by the naked eye.

In the second place, all the nonsense about this being another Star of Bethlehem is just that: nonsense. The biblical account makes it clear that the appearance of this star to the Magi was a supernatural event, not some planetary conjunction. Matthew 2:9 states, “When they had heard the king [Herod], 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.” So, did a planetary conjunction come and stand over where the child was?

The way to appreciate this rare but natural event was through a telescope, where even at fairly high magnification it was possible to see both planets and some of their satellites in the same field of view, as I and some friends did last evening. It was indeed a beautiful sight, and in the words of Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God.

Crispin Pemberton-Pigott
Reply to  Mike Middlebrooke
December 21, 2020 8:48 pm

That account is poetic but there is much more to the back story than that.  The reason the”wise men from the East” were traveling (independently at first) was they were Zoroastrian priest/astronomers. In those days the activities went together. The Holy Book of the Zoroastrians (also called followers of Zarathustra) says that when a certain sign appears in the sky, followers could find Him returned, after 1000 years, born of a virgin. This aspect of one founder of a great religion prophesying the coming of his replacement, so to speak, has been omitted from Western stories about the event. 

The foundation of astronomy was because of the priest’s desire to find Zoroaster’s “return” at least in a spiritual sense. So the “star in the East” as we in the West call it, was in the heavens and having been described earlier in their texts, signaled the three to leave Persia and head West. They met in the way and made their search together, arriving eventually in Palestine. 

Some say that when they arrived Jesus was about 2 years old.  The claimed date of 4 BC for the birth is unlikely. It does not fit the prophecies of Daniel about the First Coming, the beginning of His mission, execution, or later events. All those dates (calculated from Daniel instructions) align well including the Return in the “Glory of the Father”. 

I don’t need to repeat that it aligned with the Zoroastrian prophecy.  The great civilization of the Persian Empire was built upon the teachings and laws of Zoroaster and had a significant effect on the administration and culture of the Holy Land. The “Pharasees” are the “Farsi’s”.  Persians who speak Farsi, or their minions. They ran things in Palestine for centuries before the Romans captured it.

Joe D
Reply to  Mike Middlebrooke
December 21, 2020 8:56 pm

I agree that the association with Jesus’ birth is, at least very weak. The Greek word used in Matt 2:2 “we have seen his ‘astera’ “. can mean any sign in the sky. Star, Planet, Conjunction, or even a cloud. Scripture simply does not provide any details. So any ideas are only guesses. And we don’t really have a good solid way to pin down the exact year of Jesus’ birth with 100% confidence.

The Magi may have had inside information from the Prophet Daniel, who lived in their area of the world for most of his life. And they may have been given prophetic insight themselves.

The Jupiter/Saturn conjunction is a bit early for most historians. I I think that any astronomical sign should only have one occurrence. There were other possibilities on other years. The view “Gospel in the Stars” makes speculation about a series of conjunctions with various stars, planets, and constellations that occurred a later date. Here is one critical review of the idea. https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/stars/a-further-examination-of-the-gospel-in-the-stars/

Gunga Din
Reply to  Joe D
December 22, 2020 3:56 pm

The best I know is that he was born September 11, 3BC.
Rather than type out a bunch, I looked for a link.
I’d found better in the past that summed it up but this is the best I found on this search.
This link leaves out stuff and has some things wrong, I believe. In Jewish tradition at the time Saturn was viewed as an “evil star”, more along the lines “Satan”. (I think he relied on Zoroastrian stuff.)
A biggie left out was that Danial wasn’t just in the area, he was made head guy of the magi.
Another regarding the time of year Jesus was born related to John the Baptist.
Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he serving during the course of Abiah. That was from the end of May to early June.
Elizabeth got pregnant and in her 6th month Gabriel appeared to Mary.
Anyway, here’s link.
http://www.azastronomy.com/star-clusters/christmasstar.pdf

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Gunga Din
December 23, 2020 5:06 pm

The exact date is not known and doesn’t really matter ! The date for the celebration of the Incarntion (not birth) of Christ was chosen to correspond to the pagan festivals for the winter solstice for several reasons, most significantly to replace the pagan festivals and because that time of year in the northern hemisphere is a time of celebration of oncoming warmthe just as the incarnation should be a celebration of Christ heralding a new order.

Greg S.
December 21, 2020 6:58 pm

They appeared as one to the naked eye yesterday evening too. Glad I looked at it then because this evening it was cloudy.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Greg S.
December 23, 2020 5:07 pm

They have been close togethr for several days and will continue to be close for a while. They don’t go zipping past each other as some reports suggest.

Sara
December 21, 2020 7:44 pm

Completely overcast in my kingdom. Can’t even see the Moon.

I am sad. (sniff!)

Lance
December 21, 2020 7:58 pm

Great viewing from Phoenix tonight.

Devils_Tower
December 21, 2020 8:37 pm

Earlier in month, the sun/jup/sat aligned. About the 5th I think.

Maybe coincidence but look what happened to Sun spot number…

http://www.sidc.be/silso/eisnplot

December 21, 2020 11:18 pm

Rain all day in The Netherlands 🙁

Oldseadog
December 22, 2020 2:20 am

Before radio time signals you could calculate the error in your chronometer by doing a complicated calculation after observing the relative positions of Jupiter’s moons using a sextant. I once tried to do it but got lost about half way through and never bothered again.

Whadda ya mean, “no stamina.”
Humph.

Jonathon Galt
December 22, 2020 1:32 pm

While not to take away from the spectacle of the heavens, remember that Yeshua (Jesus) was likely born in the fall during the festival of Sukkot. Christmas is entirely a fabrication and not at all biblical so trying to fit “christmas” legend to biblical events is fruitless.

Gunga Din
December 22, 2020 4:10 pm

Overcast the 21st so I couldn’t see them.
50% overcast tonight (22nd) but I did just a few moments ago get a glimpse.

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