Monday, December 23, 2013



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 something similar. Instead of Jupiter and Venus merging, however, the combined planets are Jupiter and Earth:

STEREO-B is located on the far side of the sun where it can look back and see Earth along with other planets in the Solar System. From STEREO-B's point of view, Earth and Jupiter are so close together that the spacecraft's Heliospheric Imager can barely tell the two apart. Venus is only 2 degrees from the Earth-Jupiter pair, so this is actually a 3-way conjunction.

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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