Merry Christmas to all, and to all a clear night!

Ornament hanging from a Christmas tree? Cassini peers up at Saturn’s south polar region from 44 degrees beneath the ring plane last July. The black, curved stripes are the shadows of the rings on the planet’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL

Merry Christmas everyone! It’s been a joy to share the sky with you the past year. Thank you for sharing your comments, observations and photos. I hope this day finds you with family, friends and maybe even the stars.

We’ll soon step into a brand new year filled with eclipses – two lunars and a partial solar – an extremely close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, a Mars opposition and much more. In a couple days I’ll have a complete month-by-month list of upcoming astronomical highlights.

Seen from STEREO-B, Earth, Jupiter and Venus line up inside a 2-degree-wide circle in conjunction on Dec. 24. Jupiter and the Earth were especially close – just 0.4 degrees or slightly less than one full width apart. Credit: NASA

Did you know that today the Earth is in conjunction with Venus and Jupiter today? Too bad you have to floating in outer space to see it. NASA’s STEREO-B probe, which looks back toward Earth from the opposite side of the sun, photographed a very compact grouping of the three worlds on Christmas Eve.

The three planets early this Christmas morning as seen by STEREO-B. Credit: NASA

Today they’re still very close with Jupiter practically on top of Venus. Coincidentally, a similar near-overlap of the two planets (as seen from Earth) on June 17, 2 B.C. was one possibility for the famed Star of Bethlehem we explored in yesterday’s blog.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

35 thoughts on “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a clear night!

  1. Aloha Astro Bob and Everyone!
    As most of us who live here in Hawaii say on this day, “MELE KALIKIMAKA!” (Merry Christmas in the Hawaiian language).
    From what my son tells me (who lives in Minneapolis), it looks like you are having a wonderful (but cold) “white Christmas”. It’s quite the contrast (and a huge adjustment) not ever having snow when Christmas time comes around. Instead, it just seems the season brings out a little bit more of the “aloha spirit” here on the island of Kauai.
    Again, I hope everyone’s day is as close as it can be to being that one very special day of the year and can be spent with family and/or friends. Be safe and please, stay warm!
    Aloha For Now! ;-}

    • Hi Wayne,
      I can now pronounce just about any Hawaiian word thanks to our trip there this fall. Love how it rolls off the tongue. Merry Christmas to you as well and I hope you’re also spending it with family.

  2. Clear skies tonight, probably not. I can look out my window and see snow falling. I do not like Bing Crosby have to dream of a White Christmas.

  3. Merry Christmas Bob! Thank you for your great research and writing and photos and for responding to your readers! Toad care. Happy New Year!!

  4. Hi Bob- Merry Christmas- My best guess on the star of Bethlehem is that it was a comet, a bright one. Like ison, a comet would appear to move east toward the sun in the morning sky when everything else seems to be moving a little more west each morning. Depending on the track of the comet after rounding the sun it may have appeared to move west with everything else (like ison would have if it had survived) and maybe would have even appeared to slow down or even come to a stop as it moves with the stars and planets to the west as the earth rotates. Also it took the Magi at least 1-2 years to travel the distance from their home to the Jerusalem area, and the only event I can see lasting that long would be a comet, a bright one, that’s my theory anyway.

    • Hi Robert,
      Certainly possible. I’ve heard all kinds of times for the Magi to make the trip – from within 2 months up to a year. One snag however. Even “great comets” are only prominent to the naked eye – let’s say mag. 2 and brighter – for a matter of months. Hale-Bopp’s a good example. It remained at 2 or brighter from Feb. through the end of May in 1997. Of course, exceptions are possible.

    • Also a Super Nova, as the report suggests, would appear brightly and seemingly from out of nowhere and shine in a sky free of light pollution. Visible comets may only last months but a Super Nova who knows ? However we should not forget about the evidence if was a Supernova we would still be able to find the remainder of it. A comet ? Who is to say and which one was it ? Has it plundered into the sun or is a long period comet never to seen again. This why religion & science differ. In science there is always the facts and evidence. In religion it is your faith to believe in something without evidence or facts & still you believe.
      Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to Everyone > NEMike

  5. I seem to recall that “3 planets in eclipse” was the line used in the movie “The Fifth Element”. Perhaps we should get a hold of Bruce Willis. I hear he’s a cab driver in New York City now :)

  6. Merry Xmas everybody!wealth and happiness along with good health and high spirits !
    All your wishes may come true!
    Cheers
    Tassos

  7. Hey there AstroBob!!

    I’m new here! I ran across you during a google search for just what I might have seen today (between approx 12.30pm-2pm, today Dec25,2013).

    It started with the contrails (lovely), then turned into my little swifts darting around my balcony, then into balloons someone let loose into the sky (noticed w-bareEye+binocs), then into the red-tailed hawk circling above, another sighting of the red balloon…. ) AND THEN VOILA!!!! The Holy Grail!!!!

    Yes… something caught my eye…. something waay up, something near the red balloon…. oh my, what is that? That IS NOT A balloon! With binocs down, I proceeded to drag my ‘decorative’ telescope (not worth a rat’s piece of cheese) to the balcony….. and then VOILA!!!! …. that darned cup of astronomy showed itself!!!!

    Your reply post will not allow pics, but bowhowdy do I have pics!!!!!! oh my, have I pics!!!!

    While I am not here to say that you are wrong regarding having “MUST BE IN SPACE” to view Jupiter with the naked eye PLUS during daylight hours —- but lo&behold —– I was seeing JUPITER glowing in the light bouncing off the sun from my little balcony here in Westwood, Los Angeles, CA!!!!!!! …during the day!!!!!

    Had it not been for your little post here, I would have thought — well, not sure what I would have thought…. perhaps some ship with little green olive-shaped-eyed-beings inside. BUT NO!!! Your post here offered up every piece of info available that proved I was seeing the alignment of Jupiter in front of Venus right here in little old Westwood, CA!!!!

    Please, please….. if you’re willing to accept photos…. I would love to drop them your way. Will look to see where else I can offer them too. But I must say, they are quite fab….. some with the naked eye via a little camera, some attempted thru the ‘decorative’ telescope that just ‘happened’ to take!!!!

    …. oh boy…. I got to see Jupiter ON Christmas day!!!! Perhaps the Star of Bethlehem that the Magi’s themselves also saw!!!!!
    I really am beyond myself.
    I am not in space obviously….
    …. but I saw something during daylight hours on the day that our Lord was born according to the bible. I really am quite beside myself. And AGAIN, your info says that one must be in space to see this ‘moment in time’ —- but perhaps not. AND, I cannot have been the only one to see this…. although, one must have been seriously looking upward in order to have noticed the little shiny dot that I did (not to mention, also somewhere in my geographical area).

    Thank you AstroBob!!!! Thank you for sharing!!!!
    I hope that you might inquire to my email in order to see and poss even perhaps post my pics!!!
    – dawn h.

    ps: I hope that my email addy is private here (only to you), as I do not want the world spamming me….. but I’ve just got to take the chance…. you need to see these pics! :)

    • Dear Always,
      It sounds like you had an exceptional experience, but I have to be honest and say that it isn’t possible right now to see Jupiter and Venus near each other EXCEPT from the point of view of the STEREO-B spacecraft. Here on the ground, Venus is low in the southwestern sky at dusk, while Jupiter rises about 180 degrees opposite Venus in the northeastern sky around 5:30 p.m. Venus is visible in daylight if you know just where to look, but Jupiter is MUCH more difficult unless you’re looking near sunrise or sunset. Neither would appear bright in the early afternoon. All that said, I’d love to see your pictures. I’m very curious what it was you saw. You can send them to me at: rking@duluthnews.com

      • I am attempting to upload as we “reply/etc”…. :)

        Hang onto your hat mr bob :)
        Anxious to hear what you think :)

        …. So, like I’m off for a donut @ stans! Yep, should any of your ever visit my neck of the woods….. Stan’s Donuts!!! Oh my gosh… even Huell Howser has a favorite donut there!!! “Oh my Gosh”…. pics on their way!!!!
        …. beam me up Scotty! ;)

        • Hi Always,
          Got the pix – congrats! Nice work. Your photos show Venus, which right now is in “waning crescent” phase. What you might think is “Jupiter” in front of Venus is the remaining unlit part of the planet. Same as a thin crescent moon.

          • You rock Mr. AB….
            Thank you for the explanation :)

            ….and here I thought i might have discovered the next best thing since the telescope surely to go worldwide…. haha.. Your time is and was very much appreciated!

            I’ve a new place to go online…. thanks AstroBob :)

          • You’re very welcome AlwaysSearching! You are very sharp-eyed to just happen to pick Venus out in the daytime sky like that. Nice job!

  8. Anyone seeing northern lights?
    It is crystal clear & there are bright streaks in the in the north but I’m afraid it may be a parked train.
    (Rural DLH)

  9. The brightest comet in 2014? Lovejoy should be around magnitude 6 on Jan.1. I am thinking that Panstaarrs K1 may out do it, but will not be visible to us at it’s brightest. New discovery might be.

    • Yes the new PANSTARRS could be our best bet. I have been looking into 2014 for comets that may reach a magnitude 6 or brighter. Comets get discovered all the time and usually when they enter the solar system so there is always the chance we get a good comet to view. October could be interesting . Panstarrs will much brighter & SidingSpring will brush by Mars. Keep your fingers crossed & good luck in 2014 ! >NEMike

  10. Hi Bob from Ed O’Reilly.Have been visiting my sister in southern Ontario for Christmas during midst of the major ice storm.Power back on,hopefully for good.Hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas and that your New Year is a happy one.Here’s to good seeing and dark skies in 2014!

    • Nice of you to write during the storm. I can handle snow but ice storms are the worst. They do so much damage and make getting around very tricky. Glad you survived the worst – Happy New Year!

  11. Thanks,Bob.Toronto city got it worse than suburbs(where my sister’s house is) but power has been off here sporadically,too.Much worse to south of here but,hopefully,worst is over.A Happy New Year to you and yours.

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