Another event that will make 2020 unforgettable: after 800 years the star of Bethlehem will rest on the sky to the delight of believers, astronomy enthusiasts and admirers of the night dome. The star that according to the Bible guided the Magi to meet the child God will be seen again thanks to a natural phenomenon that had not happened since the Middle Ages. For several days surrounding Christmas, the stellar show will be available to all inhabitants of the planet.
The first important piece of information to specify is that, although we call it the "star of Bethlehem", it is not really a star. What we will see is the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in the Solar System, which being in very close orbits the earthly viewer will appreciate with the naked eye as a single celestial body of extraordinary brightness.
In Venezuela the event can be seen perfectly. The recommendation is to fish it after sunset on the days around December 21. Read on to learn about the sacred and obscene history of this curious biblical phenomenon, as well as the best recommendations to appreciate in all its splendor a unique experience, a privilege of this generation.
The truth of the star
The magicians continued on their way. The star they had seen in the East went ahead of them, until it stopped where the child was. When they saw the star they were very happy, and having entered the house, they found the child who was with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves to worship him and, opening their chests, they offered him their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh ”.
The apostle Matthew tells it in the second chapter of his gospel, the only biblical reference to the star of Bethlehem, enough to turn the exceptional star into an indisputable symbol of Christmas, in addition to covering the subject of a great cloak of religious and scientific curiosity .
Although the Sacred Scriptures themselves warn that they are not one hundred percent faithful testimony of history, for centuries it has been sought to give truth to the certain origin of many of the events narrated there. Some have been confirmed, some have not. And what remains in question is the existence of the star of Bethlehem.
For some it is pure fiction, for others it was a miraculous event and for a third group a true astronomical event thanks to whose reference it is possible to trace the exact date of the birth of Christ.
Within this third group, various theories are debated. One speaks of the star Alpha Centauri, the closest to our Solar System, which by around year 1 was at a time of optimal visibility on Earth. Another conjecture refers that the magicians of the East may have seen a super nova. And then the hypothesis that speaks of the conjunction between two maxi planets appears, offering the natural phenomenon that is repeated this month.
The first to associate the star of Bethlehem with interplanetary conjunction was the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who in 1614 dared to affirm that the star of Bethlehem in the biblical account was not a star as such, but from one of the many conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn, one of which occurred in 7 BC. C.
The investigador Mark Kidger, author of the book The Star of Bethlehem (XNUMX) among other works dedicated to astronomical observation, says in a article published by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias that deciphering the origin of the story of the star and the Magi has occupied scholars from various branches of knowledge since the first centuries of our era.
This scientist points out that although the Gospel of Matthew is the only one in the Bible that speaks of the star, there are two other historical references that mention it: the protoevangelium of James - one of the texts written as a gospel but which was never incorporated into the Bible by objection of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and that, together with others, forms the Apocryphal Gospels - and the other is a letter written by Saint Ignatius of Antioquia, perhaps some 50 years after the Gospel of Matthew was written.
Ignacio's reference is very brief: "his light was unspeakable and his novelty caused astonishment." Santiago, on the other hand, expands on the content of Mateo. He says: "We saw how an indescribably large star appeared from among these stars and dazzled them as they no longer looked and thus we knew that a King had been born for Israel."
Kidger wonders why, if it was such a striking natural event, none of the other Evagelists mention it, and even in Matthew's own text it seems that only the Magi could see it. Still, he makes several conjectures that lead him to sketch a theory about the existence of the phenomenon.
First, it discards some of the popular assumptions that the star of Bethlehem could be Venus, Halley's Comet, or Hale-Bopp, a meteor, or a supernova (a star that undergoes an explosion that destroys it). The scholar is closer to the theory of conjunction, but making several caveats.
The first, that if this theory is true, the date of Christ's birth is wrongly calculated and also that it would not be just any conjunction but rather a “triple conjunction”, locating it exactly in the constellation Pisces.
The second is that the closeness of Jupiter and Saturn was accompanied by another event detected by Chinese and Korean astronomers at the same time: a nova (a star that undergoes an explosion that suddenly and exponentially increases in brightness for a certain time) observed near the star Theta Aquilae in March 5 BC
For Kidger, the Magi were able to take the triple conjunction as a first announcement and the nova, which must have been visible for several weeks, as the definitive call for the birth of the Messiah.
How do I see it?
The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter can be seen in all points of the planet, but its best place of appreciation will be in the regions close to the Equator, which favors Venezuela.
As mentioned before, the best time is the sunset of December 21, the day of the winter solstice, however, it is expected that it can be seen in the northern hemisphere from December 16 to 25. Only one condition applies: weather conditions permitting. Many clouds or pollution play against.
It will be enjoyed with the naked eye. You don't need any special tool to spot the phenomenon, much less to protect your eyesight. It looks the same as any star can be seen in the night sky. Of course, those with a telescope will have the advantage to approach and see the star in greater detail.
Although it will be identifiable with the naked eye, people with a smart cell phone can locate themselves in the celestial vault cartography with one of the many free-use applications that are in the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, such as Sky View, which also offers the location and observation of the stars through augmented reality.
It is important to keep an eye on social media accounts such as those of Planetario Humboldt, which usually publish instructions to facilitate the enjoyment of astronomical shows on local soil.
“The alignments between these two planets are quite rare, they occur once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare due to how close the planets will appear to be to each other. You would have to go back to just before sunrise on March 4, 1226 to see a closer alignment between these visible objects in the night sky, "Rice University astronomer specialist Patrick Hartigan explained to Forbes.
Those who today are girls and boys may have a second chance to enjoy the conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter since it will happen again in the year 2080. Then they will have to wait several generations because the next time will be around the year 2400. A compelling reason to include this appointment with the stars in our Christmas calendar.