After an absence of roughly 2000 years the Star of Bethlehem may soon be making a return to our night skies on June 30, 2015 — to be more specific Venus and Jupiter will be making their tightest highly visible conjunction in nearly two millennia.
The reference to the Star of Bethlehem is with regard to the fact that there was a very similar ultratight conjunction between the two — and close by the star Regulus (as this one will be), and high up in the sky (as this will be as well) — in 3-2 BC. Some astronomers have in the past speculated that this earlier conjunction is what the “Star of Bethlehem” referred to.
At the very least this conjunction will make for a very impressive sight in the night’s sky. The two bright planets have already begun moving closer and closer together in the last evening sky over the past month, this convergence will continue until the evening of June 30, 2015. Those interested should look in the western portion of the evening sky to see the conjunction. Roughly an hour or so after sunset is probably a good time — but obviously there’s some flexibility there.
Relatively close to this conjunction will be one of the brightest stars in the constellation of the Lion, the star Regulus. As mentioned above, the ultratight Jupiter-Venus conjunction back around 3-2 BC was also located near this very bright star. (For those with an interest in history, this is around the same time that the Olmec Civilization in Mesoamerica was reaching near complete disintegration after millennia of dominance of the region.)
While the tightest conjunction will be on the night/evening of June 30, there’ll be a week or so of impressive sights in the days before and after the conjunction.
On the night of June 30th the two planets will so close enough together that they’ll appear to a very bright “double star” — with the outstretched tip of a pinky finger reportedly being enough to cover both up.
Worth noting is that while the two planets vary considerably in size, they’ll appear roughly the same size in the night’s sky owing to Venus being considerably closer than Jupiter. For those wondering, Venus is the brighter one that moves around more (as it follows the Sun around on its path through the sky).
Image Credit: Screen Capture