BRADENTON — For the first time in 800 years, a “Christmas Star” will appear in the night sky at the start of this month’s winter solstice.
On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to merge in a rare event. What is nicknamed the “Christmas Star” or the “Star of Bethlehem” is actually a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen since the Middle Ages.
Remi Gonzalez, director of communications at The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton, said Bishop is collaborating with The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg to host a live astronomy observing Monday and Tuesday.
But both nights are sold out.
“Weather permitting, people will be able to see the Great Conjunction on Monday night, and a view of the planets still very close together on Tuesday,” Gonzalez said.
It’s a planetary alignment that last happened in the year 1226, according to Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan.
“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 one another,” Hartigan said in a story posted on scie-news.com. “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.”
You won’t need binoculars or a telescope to see the Great Conjunction of 2020, but if you do have observing equipment, you’ll be able to zoom in and watch the action of Jupiter’s four moons — Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede.
Punta Gorda astronomy enthusiast Tom Segur has been watching the planets for the past week as they get closer together.
“Anyone can view this with a pair of binoculars,” Segur said. “Look in the southwest sky about a half hour after sunset, and Jupiter will be the brightest object in that part of the sky.”
Segur is the director of the Moore Observatory at Florida SouthWestern State College in Punta Gorda. He’s also a member of the Southwest Florida Astronomy Society, Inc., a club formed in 1980 by amateur astronomers.
NASA predicts the next “great conjunction” of this magnitude won’t happen for another 60 years or so, then again about 320 years after that.
There are beliefs this alignment led the three Wise Men to Jerusalem. In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus. It is also said to be the inspiration for stars placed atop Christmas trees each year.