After one year of premieres and wild experiences, the year 2020 will end with the sighting of the “poinsettia”, a planetary alignment not seen for 800 years. Towards the end of December, stargazers can expect to see an incomparable bright spot in the night sky.
On the 21st of December the poinsettia will be visible, although it is not actually a star at all. The guiding point, also called the Star of Bethlehem, is actually two plants in a line. Jupiter and Saturn will be so close to the Earth and will align themselves in an orbit that they will apparently form an intensely bright “star”.
While Jupiter and Saturn will stand in line for a few years, what is unusual in 2020 is how close they will appear to the Earth. Since they align to form a “double planet”, as Forbes called the sight, it will be the first time since the Middle Ages that this alignment is so visible.
The astronomer Patrick Hartigan explained Forbes. “Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, they occur about once every 20 years, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because the planets seem to be so close together,” he said. “One would have to go back to just before sunrise on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.
However, it will not take quite as long until this happens again. It is expected that another poinsettia will appear in the night sky in 2080. However, it will not even be a “Christmas” star then, since the alignment is expected in May, i.e. in sixty years.
In contrast to some spectacular celestial events, those who want to experience the 2020 poinsettia will not have to stay up all night. Depending on where you are, you can expect the phenomenon 45 minutes after sunset. The poinsettia should be visible to the naked eye if you look southwest. If it is a cloudy night, you are naturally unlucky.
For Christians who observe the holiday, the poinsettia could have even more significance. The orientation of the planet could play a role in the birth story of Jesus when the three wise men followed the “Star of Bethlehem” to welcome the Son of God into the world on Christmas Eve. There is a widely held theory that the star that the wise men followed in the biblical text may in fact have been a similar planetary alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. Inversely the theory outlined in 2016.