CHRISTMAS CONJUNCTION IN SPACE: According to some scholars, the Star of Bethlehem might have been a close encounter between Venus and Jupiter. The two brightest planets in the night sky, merged, would have made a spectacle of Biblical proportions. This Christmas, NASA’s STEREO-B probe is observing a conjunction of three planets–Venus, Earth and Jupiter:


Unlike conjunctions of the distant past, this one includes our home planet. STEREO-B is located on the far side of the sun where it can look back and see Earth along with other worlds in the Solar System. Only NASA’s twin STEREO probes, equipped with their high dynamic-range Heliospheric Imagers, can witness this kind of conjunction.

From STEREO-B’s point of view, Earth and Jupiter are less than 0.4 degrees apart, while all three planets fit in a circle 2 degrees in diameter. This meeting is not nearly as tight as the putative Star of Bethlehem conjunction ~2000 years ago. At that time Venus and Jupiter could have been as little as 6 arcseconds (0.00166 degrees) apart. Nevertheless, the ongoing display is still special because it’s the first “Christmas Star conjunction” from space. Happy Holidays from STEREO!

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