Rev. Frank Hughes, Jr.
The Christmas Star
December 21st will feature the Winter Solstice, continuation of the Geminid Meteor Shower, the Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and the Ursid Meteor Shower.
Although you can see the Conjunction during the 4-5 days on either side of December 21st, December 21, 2020, is the official date when the two planets of Jupiter and Saturn will be at their closest.  This will be the best time to see this Conjunction of the two planets.  If that date is cloudy, try watching it on a subsequent night.

Return of the star that guided three wise men to Bethlehem? How you can see the first alignment Jupiter and Saturn in 800 YEARS - the phenomenon that is believed to feature in Bible.

        Jupiter and Saturn have been gradually getting closer since the start of summer

        And on December 21, the planets will appear to virtually overlap in the sky

        Beaming bright light it will cause many to liken it to the Star of Bethlehem

How rare is this event?

The conjunction of these two planets in the sky, and being easily visible, has not happened for 800 years.

There have been similar planetary conjunction events since then, but not with Jupiter and Saturn so close together in this way. The next time these two planets will be this close together is 2080.  It also occurred in 1623, but they were then so near to the sun that you could not make them out.

It is, of course, an optical illusion that the planets are together.  In fact, they will be almost 500 million miles apart.

Could it really be the return of the Star of Bethlehem?

It is an intriguing theory and astronomers have, over the years, posed ideas about what the star the Three Wise Men witnessed might have been.

The Star of Bethlehem only features in one of the gospels, so there is a limited historical record.

There was a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 2BC, which could have been seen at the time as a very bright star in the sky.  There has also been a triple conjunction of 3 planets recorded which falls within the time frame of when the Wise Men might have been watching the night sky.

Others have suggested the Three Wise Men could have seen a supernova, which is a star exploding, or a less bright nova.

And there is a record of such an event in 4BC, seen in China, Korea and the Holy Land.

As my Astronomy professor said, we do not know for certain which 'theory' is correct, although the triple conjunction of three planets comes closest to answering the question as to what was the Star of Bethlehem.

Professor Patrick Hartigan from Rice University, Texas, has suggested the following about the Star of Bethlehem:

The most obvious candidate for a Star of Bethlehem would be the sudden appearance of a brilliant star. This does occur from time to time when a star nearing the end of its life explodes in a supernova. There are also less catastrophic events known as novae, that occur in close binary systems when a white dwarf star accretes matter from a close companion. Novae are more common, but are much fainter intrinsically so need to be quite close to appear brilliant in the sky. Examples of historical supernovae brilliant enough to be seen during the day (brighter than Venus) occurred in 185 CE, 1006 CE, and 1054 CE, visible for 8 months or more, left observable remnants with expanding shells you can measure to find out their ages.

There are no records of such a bright supernova or nova around 4 BCE. Something was recorded in Chinese text of an object that lasted for 2 months around that time. This could have been a comet or a nova. If it was a nova it would have had to have been very close by (inside around 100 pc or so) to be as bright as Venus or even Jupiter, and there are no plausible candidates I am aware of for that. If it were as bright as Venus it should have been visible for longer than 2 months. The object was in the summer sky near the constellation Aquila, and some have speculated that the Taylor-Hulse binary pulsar is the leftover from a supernova there. However, the T-H pulsar is quite far away and there is a lot of dust along the line of sight. Optimistically it would not have been as bright as Jupiter, and may have been too faint to see at all. There is no accurate age for the T-H pulsar so there is no reason to believe it occurred at this time. Novae do occur now and then; we had a nice one in 1975 about 2nd magnitude, visible for about 2 weeks. And of course, comets come and go, some brighter than others. I think we can safely say there was no really bright supernova during this time, though there could well have been a 1975-like nova, or a decent comet. It is hard to believe that a nova or supernova as bright as Venus could have slipped by without many more records.

Bottom line: Jupiter and Saturn would not have made a very impressive Star of Bethlehem in 7 BCE, at least to our modern eyes. They were a wide pair about a degree apart. They did do a triple conjunction, something uncommon but not extremely so, but the conjunctions were not nearly as impressive (close) as the previous triplet was in 145 BCE. The 7 BCE triplets would not have indicated a specific direction, but would have been anywhere from southeast to southwest depending on which triplet you observed and at what time of the night. You might argue that Jupiter/Venus would have made for a better `Star', as something quite special, though not unprecedented, happened in the summer of 2 BCE, and that conjunction was in a clear westerly direction. The dates don't quite match up with the birth of Jesus for either one though. The Jupiter/Saturn 7 BCE conjunction is better, but may be a bit early, and the Venus/Jupiter one in 2 BCE seems late, as King Herod was supposed to have died in 4 BCE. It's important to keep in mind that conjunctions in general don't suddenly appear like a brilliant 'star'. They look like two planets close together. If the planets are unresolved, it'll look like the brightest of the two usually, because there is almost always a large difference in brightness between the brighter one and the fainter one. But ancient astrologers may have been looking for something other than a pretty sight in the sky, for example, which constellation the conjunction might appear in. So it is hard to know what effect a wide conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, or a close one with Venus and Jupiter, or something else entirely, might have had on their interpretations of events.

The Geminid meteor shower has already passed it's zenith, but can still be faintly seen; the conjunction will also be visible for about two weeks after December 21st. The Ursid Meteor Shower will run from December 17-26; with the peak on 21-22.  Some videos that describe and theorize about the Conjunction celestial event; also how to view the event. They are courtesy of Exeter University:

If you’d like to know even more about the history of Great Conjunctions, Professor Patrick Hartigan from Rice University, Texas, has a webpage that explains much more (just click on this link):



You can watch the Conjunction by going to this website:


Christmas Eve is a special time for everyone.  An Australian gives her perspective: