LIMA — Many of us are familiar with the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus and how the Magi were drawn to Bethlehem by a star.
A celestial event is expected this week when the planets Saturn and Jupiter come close enough together to see them as one object from the Earth. These planets are still millions of miles apart, but to our eyes, they will become one.
“On December 21, we will witness in the southwestern sky a great conjunction of the two major planets of our solar system. Jupiter and Saturn will appear as a ‘single star’ to the naked eye. They will be only 0.1 degrees apart. That is the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length,” said Michael Ritchie, president of the Lima Astronomical Society.
This is the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn since 1623.
Look for the two planets converging low in the southwestern sky just after sunset, resulting in what many people are calling the “Christmas Star.”
Saturn and Jupiter pass close together roughly every 20 years, but the timing of this being so close to Christmas evokes a different experience for those who recall the story of Christ’s birth, which is celebrated on Dec. 25 each year but according to Biblical scholars is actually unlikely to be the date when Christ was born.
“What the astronomical scholars have found out is that there’s really no significant events that happened around the time that they say Jesus was born. About the closest thing that we have, there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus back in August in 3 BC,” Ritchie said.
The chances of actually seeing this celestial event in Lima is low as cloudy skies are in the forecast. Even if you can see it, it might be a little underwhelming.
“It was supposed to be this big, grand event and it’s not really going to be like that,” Ritchie said. “Saturn and Jupiter together really isn’t going to be any brighter than what Jupiter is already. So it’s not going to be this nice big super bright star in the southwest that people are saying it’s going to be, it’s not going to be any brighter than what you see it in any other day.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.