The Astro Nativity scene

Jupiter and Saturn on the crib: from the "Star of Bethlehem" to the planetary conjunction of 2020

MODICA – In the debate over the nature of the “star” that guided the Magi to visit the newborn Jesus, one of the theories is the presence of a rare astronomical event that may have inspired whoever wrote the text. In our modern imagination we are used to think of a comet, but there are no periodic comets in that period, nor transcripts of non-periodic comets (such as the Neowise in July of this year). In fact, we know that it was Giotto, hundreds of years later, who made such an artistic interpretation (see Scrovegni Chapel in Padua).

It is plausible to think that the biblical editor who had witnessed this kind of event would have been so impressed by it as to include it in the text, but there are also those who argue that the presence of an astronomical reference can only be a literary artifice determined by the modeling of the text on traditions inspired by the Old Testament. Leaving aside the exegetical part on the debate between symbolic or literal interpretation of the text of the Gospel, in case we want to make astronomical hypothesis, the most credited would be the explosion of a supernova or a rare conjunction.

In the second case, in the year 7 B.C. a relevant astronomical event happened, that is a conspicuous planetary conjunction between the two giants of our Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn. This fact has piqued the curiosity of the director Alessia Scarso, a member of the well-known group of astrophotographers Pictores Caeli.

When I made the nativity scene a few years ago, I reconstructed the geomorphology of the territory of Bethlehem and symbolically placed the sky of December 23, 7 BC above the Nativity through optical fibers. I wanted to physically represent a possible visualization of this biblical and astronomical event. If events had gone this way, then this is the scenario we would have seen“.

This year on December 21, the day of the winter solstice, we can see the same conjunction, with an apparent closeness such as has not occurred in about 800 years. Looking southwest we can begin to see the two planets close by 5 p.m. at 225° and a height of 20° above the horizon. The two planets will set together at about 225° around 6:30 pm. The event is visible from everywhere, but to see it at its best it will be necessary to move to areas with a dimly lit horizon. Here in the province of Ragusa a suggestive view, weather permitting, is facing the sea, from Cava d’Aliga to Punta Braccetto: the conjunction will set on the marine horizon. Clearly to the naked eye you will see a single bright element. It will be necessary to use binoculars, or telescope, or telephoto lens on camera to distinguish the two separate planets and their moons.

What we can be certain of is that the astronomical event on December 21, 2020 is not a star, as we superficially read around, but a planetary conjunction. With respect to everything else… I leave it to each of us to make our own exegesis of this event at this particular and delicate historical juncture. 2000 years ago this conjunction corresponded to a spiritual rebirth. My wish in this inauspicious moment is a rebirth of Man of significant importance.

PS – The Bible speaks of Magi, but it is not indicated how many they were. We read that they carried gold, frankincense and myrrh. If we have imagined them in number of three, it is because we have interpreted that each one brings something. It wouldn’t hurt to keep thinking, in these times, that each one of us is called upon to make a contribution.”

IG – @alessia.scarso