Eyes to the sky for the ‘Star of Bethlehem’

Amateur astronomer and astrophotographer, James Fowler.

You could have been forgiven for thinking a modern day ‘Star of Bethlehem’ had risen  in the south western sky on Monday night, just days before Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. 

In actual fact, Jupiter and Saturn came within a tenth of a degree of one another, causing them to look to the naked eye as if they were one bright celestial phenomenon.

It was the closest conjunction of the two giant planets for 400 years, and the closest visible event in the night sky for 800 years.

While no wise men were spotted following this ‘star’ to the manger, Nuriootpa amateur astronomy and astrophotographer, James Fowler stood ready to capture the rare event to the best of his ability.

“This was something that won’t even near happen again until 2080, and then it won’t be as spectacular as this time,” said James, who has taken a keen interest in astrophotography over the past two years, since catching the astronomy bug in 1998 when he received his first telescope as a birthday present.

Since then, the 73 year old retiree has been able to view and capture many exciting astronomical events.

“I just love the hobby; the fresh air at night. It’s exhilarating when you see on your computer screen the results of what you’ve been doing, and then the joy of showing people something that you’re proud of,” he said.

While Jupiter and Saturn appear to be close together from Earth this week, they still remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space.

And the fact this ‘great’ conjunction also coincided with the longest day of the year here, and the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, is purely by chance, according to NASA, with conjunctions like this potentially falling on any day of the year.

But James couldn’t help but muse if it was a sign of some greater power at work.

“Who knows what it means but it’s an amazing coincidence,” he said. 

“It makes you think that there’s some meaning to it.”

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