Monday, December 24, 2012

The star of Christmas is a planet!

A timed tradition in many households whether they celebrate Christmas or not is to look up in the sky and see the Christmas star. You know the stories – the star in the sky that heralded in….well, theory has it that that star was in fact our favorite planet, Jupiter. This year, tonight, Jupiter once again makes its trek in the sky. Tonight, Christmas Eve it will appear to the lower left of the moon. To the upper left of the moon one can see the Pleiades star cluster. Christmas Night, Jupiter will appear to be in a tight embrace with the moon and perched a little to its upper left.

Impressed that our Christmas star is in fact a planet? We can account for Jupiter’s brightness in a couple of ways. The most obvious is its size. Jupiter is 88,000 miles in diameter while little Earth is a mere 8000. Another reason would be that 2012 shows Jupiter’s closest proximity to Earth in its twelve month cycle jaunt around the Sun.

This closeness that is shared between the Sun and Jupiter once a year (called the opposition) is what scientists believe also occurred all those years ago in Bethlehem .

Jupiter can be seen in the night sky immediately after dark, but don’t do it! Wait until around 9 pm or so when she has gained more detail and appears less fuzzy due to the atmosphere. The reason for this is when Jupiter appears low in the sky, you are looking at it through a larger cross section of the sky and as a result all that atmosphere tends to muddy the view.

To the Babylonians Jupiter represented their god Marduk; To the Romans it was the god Jupiter. Some thought it was the mythical counter-part to the god Zeus. Whatever you believe Jupiter brings us a magical night at Christmas time and all year round!

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