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According to NASA’s website located at science.nasa.gov, there will be a conjunction between the planets Venus and Jupiter beginning the night of June 29, and lasting through July 4, 2015. The event begs the question, did an ancient conjunction between the planets of Venus and Jupiter form the star of Bethlehem that the Wise Men of the Bible followed 2000 years ago? That is the theory that has not only been put forth by NASA, but many in the scientific community have come to support this recent finding. For the next six days, when the planet Venus has its conjunction with Jupiter, there will be what looks like the joining of two stars in the skies beginning on Monday night, and continuing through Saturday July 4th. It will appear as if one bright light or star forming in the western sky.
The scientific community now believe that this conjunction of the planets may have mistakenly been called the Star of Bethlehem by the Wise Men mentioned in the New Testament. According to Fred Schaaf, Sky & Telescope Contributing Editor, the upcoming conjunction of Venus and Jupiter will closely resemble one that occurred between the years 3 and 2 B.C., which falls within the approximate time frame that the Wise Men were said to have followed the Star of Bethlehem.
Though the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter is not especially rare, their conjunction in the western skies with the constellation of Leo and Leo’s main star, Regulus, also known as the king star by some, is extremely rare. Just how rare is it? Their conjunction with Regulus in the constellation of Leo has not happened in 2000 years, approximately when many Christians place the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. Leo, the lion, is the symbol of the tribe of Judah, from which King David and Jesus were born.
Comparing the conjunction of the two planets this year with last year and also with the one that occurred between the years 3 and 2 B.C., Schaaf stated that “all three occurred not far from Regulus, and all were similarly high up in the sky.” The conjunction that happened at around the Biblical time ascribed to when the Wise Men followed the Star of Bethlehem was, as Schaaf said, “separated by about 1°.”
Regardless if the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, often called the king and queen of the planets, really was what the Wise Men, or Magi, of the Bible followed on their route to the baby Jesus, the sight is one that star gazers will likely want to check out, weather permitting. On Tuesday night, the two planets will get as close to each other as they have been in the last two years.
Venus is the third-brightest body in the night sky and Jupiter is the fourth-brightest, though it is much farther away that Venus. The first brightest object in the sky is the sun and the second brightest humans can see from Earth is the moon. Having a quality telescope or an observatory nearby will aid in the chances that stargazers will be able to get the most out of the experience. But if the weather is nice, the conjunction should be fairly easy to see with the naked eye.
As Venus is closer to the sun than Jupiter, it moves through the sky faster, appearing as if it is “chasing” Jupiter. Tuesday night, they’ll be close as Venus prepares to pass the big guy in July. After the conjunction of the two planets, Venus will travel past Jupiter, as both planets continue in their orbits.
Though Venus and Jupiter will not quite “join” in the night sky, they will be so near to each other that if a person held up his or her finger, the tip could look as if it is covering both of the planets at the same time. In North America, they will appear to be a mere third of a degree away from each other and look like a “double star,” in the words of Sky & Telescope’s senior editor, Kelly Beatty.
Venus will look crescent-shaped. To the upper left of the conjunction of the two planets, a bit fainter will be the star Regulus in the constellation of Leo. The next time there will be a conjunction between them will be next year, on August 27th. Then, they will be even closer together, appearing to be only 0.1 degrees apart.
In actuality, Venus is quite far from Earth, 58 million miles distant from it. Jupiter is millions of miles further away, approximately 565 million miles away from Earth. That makes Jupiter, which is a lot larger than Venus, look similar in size when seen with the naked eye from Earth.
The conjunction of Jupiter and Venus is really an illusion, with the orbits of the two planets looking as if they are lining up as seen from Earth. While the conjunction is somewhat rare, with the next one going to happen only a year from August, the celestial event is not rare in the grand scheme of things. However, for the conjunction to also occur with the constellation of Leo as the backdrop, and the star Regullus visible nearby, is a rare occurrence that has not happened in 2000 years.
According to Phil Plait of New Scientist, while the conjunction, or lining up of planets, exerts somewhat more gravity upon Earth than if the planets were not lined up, if all of the planets were lined up in a conjunction, the overall combined gravity would still be far less than that of the moon. Some people believe that such alignments cause more earthquakes or are a potential sign of doomsday, but even the moon, which exerts a greater amount of gravity on Earth, does not cause a spike in the rate or severity of earthquakes twice a month.
Was the conjunction, which scientist say occurred approximately 2000 years ago in 3 or 2 B.C. between Venus and Jupiter, the same event that the Wise Men, or Magi, believed was the Star of Bethlehem that guided them to the baby Jesus? Perhaps it is possible that nobody can know for sure, but the conjunction of the two planets in the night sky will be a celestial event that stargazers will not want to miss. And for those that follow the Christian Faith, perhaps it is a time to pay close attention to the signs of the times. With respect to various reports being discussed among members of the Christian community, some church leaders are going as far as to caution believers against overreacting to the scientifically driven data.
Written By Douglas Cobb
Magi: The True Story of the Star of Bethlehem
AL.com: Look to the western sky for the magnificent
CBS News: Jupiter, Venus to converge in Star of Bethlehem moment
Daily Mail: Watch Venus and Jupiter become ‘Star of Bethlehem’ tomorrow:
Cosmic illusion will make planets appear to merge in night sky