Bakersfield Night Sky – December 20, 2008
By Nick Strobel
Venus continues to pull away from Jupiter in the early evening sky toward the southwest (shortly after sunset). Over the next few evenings, watch Mercury draw closer to Jupiter for their New Year's Eve conjunction (see chart A). The thin crescent Moon will join the evening planets at the end of the month. Saturn is high up in the south in the pre-dawn hours below the left side of Leo and is about to enter Virgo (see chart B). A telescope view shows its rings nearly edge-on. A waning crescent Moon is on the left side of Virgo just below the bright star Spica. Sunday morning marks the December solstice, the beginning of the season of winter for the northern hemisphere. The Sun stops its southward drift and starts heading northward again. At the end of the month, Saturn will begin its retrograde (backwards) motion, drifting back towards Regulus.
It is at this time of year that astronomers are often asked about the "Bethlehem star" of the gospel writer Matthew's birth story of Jesus. What could it have been? I have a detailed article about it at my Astronomy Notes site (go to www.astronomynotes.com/history/bethlehem-star.html). Briefly, the "star" would more likely have been a "sign" in the sky involving a close meeting of two or more planets (a conjunction). Which particular conjunction it could have been depends critically on when you date the death of Herod. My Bethlehem star article gives my argument for that event around 4 BC. Here are the possible conjunctions:
The planetarium's spring schedule of public shows will be posted by the first full week of January on the planetarium's website www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/planetarium Also, more Night Sky charts are available on the planetarium website.
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com
last updated: December 15, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel