Rare Conjunction, or the End of the World?

We’ve written before about what NASA calls The ‘Great’ Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. They say, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Skywatchers are in for an end-of-year treat. What has become known popularly as the “Christmas Star” is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21.

That’s tomorrow evening, dear reader. Then they say:

The planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, with the positions of Jupiter and Saturn being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years. What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”

It’s a rarity, so you don’t want to miss it. They tell you the best way to look:

For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s what to do:

• Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.

• An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.

• The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.

But not everyone has a scientific attitude. A good example can be found in the Daily Express, a British tabloid. Their headline is End of the world claims: Preacher thinks December 21 Christmas Star is a prophetic sign. [Ooooooooooooh! A prophetic sign!] Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Conspiracy theorists have come out in force this month [Hee hee!] after it was announced Jupiter and Saturn will pass within touching distance of one another on the evening of December 21 – the night of the winter solstice. The so-called Great Conjunction, which only happens every 20 years, will be the closest visible conjunction since 1226. The planets will come within 0.1 degrees, which has led some to believe the conjunction will resemble the Christmas Star of Bethlehem from the Bible’s New Testaments.

It gets crazier:

Even more bizarrely, niche groups of evangelical Christians believe this event, which will unfold just four days before Christmas, is somehow a prophetic sign from God. [Gasp!] Matters are further complicated by claims the ancient Mayan calendar will run out on December 21 – the supposed date of the end of the world.

There’s a lot more, but it’s all crazy stuff. Click over there and read it if you like. Anyway, we plan to take a look tomorrow evening. It’s something one should see — weather permitting, of course.

Your Curmudgeon is prepared for whatever may happen. We’re ready for the Cosmic Aardvark to carry us on his back and fly us to the firmament. There’s nothing left to be done except to declare what may be our final Intellectual Free-Fire Zone.

You know the rules. We’re open for the discussion of pretty much anything — science, politics, economics, whatever — as long as it’s tasteful and interesting. Banter, babble, bicker, bluster, blubber, blather, blab, blurt, burble, boast — say what you will. But avoid flame-wars and beware of the profanity filters. The comments are open, dear reader. Have at it!

Oh, wait! Because this is a doomsday post, we adhere to tradition and close with this:

Thats all folks

Copyright © 2020. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

12 responses to “Rare Conjunction, or the End of the World?

  1. “the ancient Mayan calendar will run out on December 21 – the supposed date of the end of the world” Didn’t we hear that a few years ago? Or is it a hardy perennial?

  2. Since it is all prophetic we know there is nothing to worry about, as they have been totally wrong 100% of the time.

  3. The native Americans used to test a person’s eyesight by determining if the person could notice that the second star in the Big Dipper’s handle was actually a double star. It’s not easily noticeable, but people with decent eyesight can distinguish them. There’s no way that anyone with average eyesight would fail to notice that two planets like Jupiter and Saturn are two separate lights (stars for the ignorant) – never one “Christmas star” no matter how close they appear.

  4. @Philby
    I don’t understand what you mean, no matter how close Jupiter and Saturn, they can be distinguished as two objects. It is a fairly common event for one celestial object to transit another, that is, like an eclipse. If we’re talking about small objects, it looks like they become one. Like asteroids transiting a star, for example. I don’t know how often Jupiter transits Saturn as seen on Earth – that is, when Jupiter’s shadow cone of Saturn falls on Earth, but it isn’t impossible.

  5. @MichaelF: “[Socialism] is their shorthand for government interference in the economy, corruption, failure to enforce the law, incompetence, and subsidizing people who should support themselves.”
    Not quite the definition I gave a while ago ….
    It’s a pity, really. A long time ago I claimed that conservatism is a respectable ideology with many good points. The American historian James Kennedy, who since 2003 lives and works in The Netherlands, recently wrote a column with the header “Conservatism is not a prudent, cautious force anymore”. A few months ago our very own dear SC gave a perfect example of what this means, when he claimed that Bernie Sanders celebrated his honeymoon in the Soviet-Union and rhetorically asked what that said about him.
    Well, nothing, because he didn’t.


    Now this is relatively innocent, but it’s also representative for the swamp modern conservatism finds itself in – a swamp of comforting falsehoods. Modern conservatism is the exact opposite of “the values of reason, liberty, science, and free enterprise”. Again, that’s a great pity.
    Unfortunately modern liberals (what the article you linked to calls “progressives”; the Dutch name is social-liberals) and modern socialists (defined as I did) suffer from the same problem far more than is good for them as well. Given the grave consequences of the upcoming climate crisis (and already reflected in the incompetent way several European countries, including The Netherlands, deal with COVID-19) that’s a strong reason to worry.

  6. @TomS

    I know that transits are not impossible. I should have made it clearer that for Jupiter to transit Saturn to the extent that they would be indistinguishable as two separate objects is extremely unlikely. It is doubtful that an occurrence of this nature had taken place as to be considered the “Christmas star” as referred to in the Bible. Astronomers can go back and determine if and when such an event took place. It’s been over 800 years since J & S have been seen so close together. I admittedly haven’t researched this, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not happened that they would have appeared as one entity for as long as man has kept track of such things.

  7. The Wikipedia article “Occultation” says that such an exact alignment last occurred in 6548 BCE and next in 7541 CE. This conjunction will have them at 1/10 degree apart, which may make them indistinguishable for someone with as bad vision as mine – unfortunately the local skies are cloudy.
    I’m going to make up an astrological
    Interpretation of a contest between two cosmic-class losers.

  8. In the UK, where we have taken back control, our precious bodily sovereignty is fully protected from the malevolent influences of these external planetary events by a thick nationwide covering of impenetrable British clouds.

    However, Christmas has been cancelled by the outbreak of a new strain of the Mutant Teenage Ninja COVID…

  9. @TomS

    Thanks for the info. I doubt that I could resolve them with that small separation. I’ll let you know in 7541 CE.

  10. Trump just filed suit to cancel the opposition of these two bodies citing executive privilege. Trump is the C in C (Crybaby in Chief)

  11. Michael Fugate

    According to the crack staff of geniuses at the DI, not only is evolution racist, but anti-racist pedagogy and critical race theory are racist too. It is the not unexpected backlash from a year of events highlighting the systemic racism in the US – from police violence to healthcare inequalities to voter suppression to environmental and educational injustice- the list goes on and on. Reality is a crime to a rightwing creationist.