Also known as the Star of Bethlehem, the Christmas Star is seen as a result of Jupiter and Saturn aligning as part of the so-called Great Conjunction. The Great Conjunction is a term coined by astronomers to describe the close passing of the two large planets, and it occurs around every 20 years. This passing is the closest recorded in hundreds of years, creating a “spectacular event in the sky”, that will make the planets appear as one star – despite both still being around 400 million miles from one another.
The last time it was witnessed, with such extraordinary visibility, was 1226, and with it coming in the winter solstice, it is being called the Christmas Star in reference to the story of Jesus’ birth.
According to a passage in the Gospel of Matthew, the star shone brightly in the aftermath of Jesus’ arrival on Earth, leading three wise men to follow it to where he was born.
The events have even led one observer to claim a new messiah may be born.
Nigel Henbest, author of Philip’s 2021 Stargazing Month-by-Month Guide to the Night Sky in Britain & Ireland, exposed his vision of events by using the works of Johannes Kepler, who was integral to scientific research during the 17th century.
Mr Kepler, who was the first scientist to correctly explain how planets move, argued that the Star of Bethlehem only truly arose every 300 years and came as a result of a “triple conjunction”.
This “triple conjunction”, Mr Kepler claimed, saw “Jupiter lap Saturn in the Solar System” allowing the planets to align with the Sun for a moment.
But from Earth’s perspective, the planets appeared to go backwards, which made observers appear to see two or three conjunctions – or the planets passing one another – throughout the same year.
The last triple great conjunction was witnessed in 1980, and astronomers say the next will be in 2239.
There is no scientific basis for whether this phenomenon is in fact the Star of Bethlehem, but some astronomers and theologians do argue there could be a case for it.
Dr Carolin Crawford, from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, claimed that “2,000 years ago, people were a lot more aware of what was happening in the night sky”.
She told the BBC that therefore it was “not impossible that the Star of Bethlehem was a planetary alignment” like the one suggested by Mr Kepler.
Others, including EarthSky’s Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd, added: “Some believe the Christmas star was really a conjunction – or close meeting – of Jupiter with two other planets, Saturn and Mars.
“Planets were ‘wandering stars’ to the ancients, and to many, they bore great astrological or mystical significance.”
The Christmas Star is set to be visible in the western sky for around 90 minutes after sunset, which is expected at around 3.50pm today.