'Star of Bethlehem' will remain visible to stargazers for days
Saturn (above) and Jupiter have appeared since July 1623 in an image captured in central Seoul, South Korea on December 21, 2020 - YONHAP / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock
Astronomers have said that stargazers who were unlucky not to catch a glimpse of the "Star of Bethlehem" on Monday evening could see the "once in a lifetime" event for days.
On Monday evening, Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, appear closer together in the so-called "Great Conjunction" than ever before since the 17th century.
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Rain and cloudy weather in much of southern England have obscured the spectacle for many, but the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) said the two planets were moving "very slowly" apart and would be visible "unusually close together" for the days that followed. .
The two planets were previously this close to each other in 1623, but due to the sun obscuring the phenomenon, it is believed that it was last visible in 1226.
People in Kolkata, India stand in line to see the "Great Conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn - Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP
The Vatican has said it believes that a similar "grand conjunction" could explain why the Star of Bethlehem casts an unusually bright light in the heavens over the Holy Land and heralds the birth of Jesus Christ.
Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, planetary scientist and director of the Vatican Observatory, said in a virtual talk on BBC Sky at Night magazine: "This year is special because one of the most popular explanations for the star is a close association with bright planets being made for everyone be visible in a clear sky. "
In order to experience this year's "Grand Conjunction", the RAS advises people to look deep into the southwest after sunset, where two bright points of light can appear.
"Both planets are bright - in the case of Jupiter, brighter than all the stars - and will therefore be apparent when the sky is clear. At 1700 GMT, both planets will be less than 10 degrees above the horizon to British observers, so it is important to find a line of sight without tall buildings or trees to block the view, "it said.
When people use binoculars, the two points are larger and some may even be able to see the four largest moons of Jupiter, according to the RAS.
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