If you don’t get a Christmas kiss this year due to COVID restrictions, you don’t have to look any further than the night sky. That’s what scientists call the astronomical phenomenon that will fall tonight.
2020 was a monumental year for making sure everyone truly appreciates the little and big glimmers of hope that make up what it means to be human.
At the beginning of the year, Britain witnessed Captain Tom Moore, a 99-year-old (at the time) war veteran, walk through his backyard to raise the equivalent of 16.5 million euros for the NHS.
Across the empty cities and streets, the pandemic gave nature a chance to restore itself. Schools of fish and crabs could be seen in the canals of Venice for the first time in living memory, as pollution caused by tourism receded. Residents of northern India saw the Himalayas thanks to cleaner air.
In smaller but no less significant movements, communities around the world joined together to protect the elderly and vulnerable. Normal people volunteered their time and services to do something as simple as a week’s shopping for high-risk individuals – an act that likely saved lives.
Recall March, as Italy suffered the most devastating consequences of the coronavirus and the entire country was forced into a relentless lockdown regime. The video of people singing from their balconies, spreading light, hope and positivity, went viral.
This winter solstice, we are looking to the sky to see more than a glimmer of hope – more like a supernova.
A spaceman came to travel?
The coalescence – or “grand conjunction” – we’ll see tonight will make Jupiter and Saturn appear brighter and closer together than they have in 800 years.
To clarify: It is not the first time this has happened in the last 800 years – in fact, it happens about every 20 years. As early as May 2000, the Great Conjunction was difficult to see from Earth because of its position in the sky. And in 1623, for instance, the conjunction was probably lost in sunlight due to the location of the Earth at that time.
That is, the last time we had such a sight was probably in March 1226. For context, King Louis VIII was trying a few sieges in France, and the Carmelite Order was being reviewed by Pope Honorius III in Rome. This was a while ago.
Oh, starry night
This random Christmas miracle begs the question: Does the Great Conjunction have anything to do with the Star of Bethlehem?
The Encyclopedia Britannica suggests the thought may not be so far-fetched.
Described in the Bible, the phenomenon has been rationalized by science through several theories, including exploding stars (novae and supernovae), comets, meteors and – as we will witness on Dec. 21 – planetary conjunctions.
Jesus’ actual birth year, while not certain, is narrowed down to between 6 and 4 BC. It is believed that Jupiter and Saturn were within one degree of each other three times in eight months in 7 BC.
Where is the best place for stargazing?
In theory, and unlike Y2K, it should be visible anywhere on Earth – but the best views are closer to the equator. That’s the Congo, Kenya, the Maldives, and everywhere else in parallel.