Christmas Star 2020

By Fr. Earl Meyer, Special to The Hays Daily News

This December, but especially at the summer solstice on December 21, shortly after sunset there will be a rare conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the western sky. (see diagram below) The two planets although more than 400 million miles apart will be within less than one degree ((0.1’) in the line of sight from earth, appearing to be almost touching. Conjunctions of these planets occur about every 20 years, but the last time they were this close was over 800 years ago on March 5, 1226, the year St. Francis of Assisi died. Don't miss this event, a chance to observe a rare astronomical event.

It was a similar conjunction during the Christmas season of 1604 that led Johannes Kepler to wonder if the gospel star (Mt 2:1-12) was not a typical star but a rare conjunction of planets. (The was also a nova in 1604, but no similar event is recorded for the possible years of the birth of Christ.) Kepler then calculated with astronomical data that there was such a rare conjunction in 4 BC, which has led many astronomers to accept such a conjunction as the star that led the magi. Many instructive videos are now available on youtube.

Jupiter and Saturn have been traveling across the sky together all year, but this month the two planets get closer in the sky than they've appeared in two decades.

Some competent modern scripture scholars understand the star in Matthew as symbolic, not an historical event. But the traditional understanding has been an unusual celestial event. (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, vol 3 by Pope Benedict XVI)

The Star of Bethlehem as a conjunction of planets and not the brilliant light of Christmas cards may disappoint you. Yet consider that whatever the unusual celestial event at the birth of Christ, it was noticed only by a few professional astronomers. They were led to Christ not by a miraculous vision but by the tedious work of their profession. Daily work can lead people closer to God.  The wise still follow his star.