‘Star of Bethlehem’ shines again?
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‘Star of Bethlehem’ shines again?

Jupiter and Venus line up for celestial conjunction in eye-catching heavenly display

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A view of the 'Star of Bethlehem' over Tel Aviv, June 2015 (Channel 2 screen capture)
A view of the 'Star of Bethlehem' over Tel Aviv, June 2015 (Channel 2 screen capture)

Northern hemisphere star-gazers were treated to a fine spectacle on Tuesday night as the planets Jupiter and Venus lined up in a celestial dance that may have been the inspiration for the Star of Bethlehem legend.

The phenomenon, known as a conjunction, happens relatively often — usually once a year — but the display is not always so easily seen with the naked eye and from so many locations.

In Jerusalem, the two planets could clearly been seen hanging in the western sky and appeared as a double star although in reality the planets are hundreds of millions of kilometers apart.

According to Christian tradition, a bright star appeared in the sky signaling the birth of Jesus to the Three Wise Men and then leading them to his location in Bethlehem.

Venus and Jupiter seen in convergence, June 30, 2015 (YouTube screenshot)
Venus and Jupiter seen in convergence, June 30, 2015 (YouTube screenshot)

While there are several theories as to what might have inspired the legend, astronomers noted that in 3-2 BCE there was a similar conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to the one that shone down this week.

The next close conjunction of the planets is due in August 2016.

Venus is currently about 90 million kilometers (59 million miles) from Earth, while Jupiter is about 896 million kilometers (560 million miles) away. While Jupiter is about 12 times as wide as Venus, because it is so much further out the two planets appear to be the same size.

Those who missed the display can catch it again over the next few nights, before the planets gradually slide further apart as they continue in their respective orbits.

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