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The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

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The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn only occurs once every 20 years.

Advent Day 25 Christmas Day 2020
However in this cycle it is even rarer for them to get super close in what is called a great conjunction and it happened on the 22nd Dec 2020. So just three days ago. It is called the great conjunction because these enormous planets, Jupiter and Saturn will appear just a tenth of a degree apart and appear as one giant shining body. The last time they were this close was 397 years ago in 1623. Was it a similarly calamitous year? Before that it was 1223, again did anything precipitous happen? We only ask because the Christmas Star that the Magi followed could well have been the result of a great conjunction.

Great Conjunction

An image taken from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles shows Jupiter and Saturn in the sky on Dec. 21 during the “Great Conjunction” event.
(Image: © PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

What do we know about the Christmas star?

The Wise Men travelled from the East, probably from Persia and the account in the Bible tells the story of the star quite clearly. These men were quite possibly astrologers/astronomers. Such people observed the sky closely and would have been practiced in looking for signs or events in the cosmos. In Matthew’s Gospel the Magi tell us about the guiding star.

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.”

It led them to Jerusalem and they asked King Herod if he knew where the King of the Jews had been born so they could go and worship him directly. It was between 9 -18 months after the birth of Jesus. Herod asked his advisors where such a child might have been born and they said ‘Bethlehem’ as written by the prophet.

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.

So the Magi travelled to Bethlehem.

 they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Could the Christmas Star have been a great conjunction?

There was an alignment between Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon in April 6BC. The conjunction took place in the early morning which fits with the story of the Christmas star being a morning star. There was also a retrograde motion of Jupiter which means it appears to change direction. This could account for the Magi losing sight of it before it shone out again.