Are you a star lover just like I am? If so, our minds and hearts might just connect through this article. Also, if you are a star lover, you might know that the stars we see from the earth are humungous balls of gases thousands of kilometers in size. Take our sun for example. It is said to be a medium-sized star, right? Yet it is sufficient to provide life to our planet and us. It has such high significance, that if the earth were slightly further away from it, the planet would have frozen. Similarly, if the earth was slightly nearer to the sun than it is now, it would have burnt to ashes. If that is how important a star is, then why does something like a Christmas star happen once in 10 lifetimes? And when it does, how to see the Christmas star? Read to find out.
What makes a Christmas star?
A Christmas star isn’t like the others. God didn’t create it as a giant ball of gas. Rather, this is a name given by two human beings to the conjuncture of two massive planets that appear as bright stars from our line of sight. These planets are Jupiter and Saturn.
Well then, wouldn’t it be better to know a bit about the two planets that make the Christmas Star?
Specifications of Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth and by far the largest planet in our solar system. It is so big that it makes twice the mass of all the planets of the solar system combined. If you closely, you will see white lines encircling the center of the planet. These white lines are cold, windy clouds of water and ammonia suspended in hydrogen and helium. It has many moons but only 4 of them are clearly visible to a telescope.
Following are a few more specifications of the planet Jupiter.
|Number of moons||80 known moons|
|Length of a day||9.93 hours|
|Length of a year||11.86 earth years|
|Distance from the sun||5.1 astronomical units|
|Surface temperature||-110 degree Celsius|
The harsh and cold climate of Jupiter is what forbids life on it.
Specifications of Saturn
Saturn is a gassy planet made up of helium and hydrogen. After Jupiter, Saturn is the biggest planet in our solar system, sixth in the arrangements of planets from the sun. This is the planet having the most visible rings, even if seen from an outdated telescope. Rivaling its neighbor Jupiter, it has more than 80 moons.
Following are a few more specifications of Saturn
|Distance from the Sun||9.5 Astronomical units|
|Length of a year||29.45 Earth years|
|Length of a day||378.10 Earth days|
|Number of moons||83 known moons|
|Surface temperature||-140 degree Celsius|
Being even further away from the sun, life is impossible on Saturn as well.
The Christmas star
Now that we know how great the two planets are, it will be easy to imagine a Christmas star.
On December 21, 2020, the two giant planets Jupiter and Saturn were said to come in such close proximity to each other that they appeared as a single bright star from our line of sight.
The great conjuncture
13 years after the discovery of Jupiter and Saturn by Galileo Galilei, the two planets were witnessed traveling together across the sky. Then, Jupiter caught up to Saturn and eventually passed it. This event was named the ‘great conjuncture’ in 1623.
This conjuncture was explained by Henry Troop, an astronomer of NASA as,
“You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium,” he said, “From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21.”
The last lines indicated the great conjuncture that led to the Christmas Star. Even though the two planets appear to pass each other from time to time, their alignment happens once in every 20 years.
The Christmas star occurred in 2020 after 400 years, and at night after 800 years. In case you missed it, well, you will have to wait another 800 years to witness it again.
Another fun fact. Although the two planets seem aligned to us from the Earth, they are still millions of miles apart from each other. We cannot even begin to imagine the astronomical disaster that would happen if the two planets came in proper contact with each other.
For how long did it appear?
For those who weren’t able to see the Christmas star the first night, they saw it the next and the one after. Such a huge occurrence did not happen just for one night. The night sky retained the great occurrence for the entire week.
How to see the Christmas star
If you know when the next Christmas star will appear and plan to watch it, do the following:
- Find an open view field in which obstacles such as buildings will not block your line of sight.
- Be sure to gaze at the southwestern part of the sky, as that is where the star will be visible after sunset. In the first days, Saturn will appear above and left of the Jupiter planet, and the direction and places will be reversed in the last few days.
- Make sure to have a telescope with you. If not, install a stargazing app on your phone to track the exact location of the Christmas star. If you are lucky, you might even see the moons of the two planets.
Rare occurrences like the Christmas star are not one to miss. If you were unfortunate enough to miss it this time, keep an astronomy calendar and note down each and every upcoming event.