Venus and Jupiter Converge to Form a 'Double Star'

Astronomical phenomenon, known as planetary conjunction, is often cited as scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem.

Conjunction of the Moon, Venus (left) and Jupiter seen from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 1st, 2008
Conjunction of the Moon, Venus (left) and Jupiter seen from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 1st, 2008Credit: Wikicommons

Venus and Jupiter converged in the night sky on Wednesday, passing less than a third of a degree apart and looking as if they are about to collide - even though they were really nowhere near one another. The perceived distance between them was less than the width of full moon, or about a thumb-width apart.

In fact, Venus is now 50-million miles (90-million kilometers) away from Earth - and Jupiter is 550-million miles (890-million kilometers), and actually nowhere near each other in space.

They will still be visible close to each other for a few more days before starting to split up. Just look to the west around sunset.

The two planets are bright enough to see while the sun is still shining, though in the dark they are much more impressive. In Israel, they set around 10:20 P.M. on Wednesday.

This convergence is known as a planetary conjunction - which is often cited as a possible scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, the sign in the Gospel of Matthew that drew the Magi to the birth of Jesus.

The two brightest planets (as seen from Earth) appear to be about the same size, even though Jupiter is actually 120 times larger - because the huge planet is so much farther away from Earth. In fact, Jupiter's diameter is about 12 times that of Venus, and it is also about 12 times farther away.

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