It was 397 years ago the last Great Conjunction, also known as the Christmas Star, happened. I mean, actually, it was during daylight the last time The Great Conjunction happened so I’m pretty sure no one could see anything because…well, daytime, but rewind further and the next occurrence would be the year 1220 AD. And as the rumor on the street has it, those two planets in the sky might even be the Star of Bethlehem aka the Jesus Star. In a year of cataclysmic proportions: between Covid – 19, the Riots of Black Lives Matter, the killing of Breonna Taylor, the choking of George Floyd, the teardown of Confederate Statues, the political power shifts between the powers that be of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and the democratic victory of the first Black Woman Vice President – to throw in the alignment of two gigantic gas giants to make it’s Spectacular Spectacular cosmic occurrence in this year of historical events right on the date of the Winter Solstice and the pagan holiday of Yule? Sure, why not?!
As the story goes…
The last time the Great Conjunction happened was 1623, 13 years after Italian astronomer Galileo Galili discovered the four moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In that same year, Galileo discovered Saturn’s rings, changing how people understood the scope of their solar system. Now, I’m not an Astrophysicist, who claims to understand the ways of the Universe, but the way I understand this notion of the Great Conjunction is through this elementary analogy: the planets are on a large racetrack for freedom, right? (haha, just kidding) and it is at this moment of the Great Conjunction that we are witnessing, firsthand, Jupiter passing Saturn. But here’s the thing, Jupiter and Saturn being in alignment is not the anomaly, as that happens about once every 20 years. What makes this the most spectacular of spectacular dances is that it has been almost 400 years since the planets last passed this close together and about 800 years since Saturn and Jupiter’s alignment occurred at night for the whole world to see. The proximity of these two giant planets being this close will not happen again for another 60 years and who knows if it will be in light or darkness.
Now, you may be like a lot of people who say, so what? And you and my daughter would agree on this notion. My family and I got our little dog Barker on his leash to commemorate the experience and walked outside; it was a balmy 45-degree F and wonderfully comfortable on the little streets of our suburban neighborhood in Fuquay -Varina, NC. The sky was flawlessly clear without a cloud in the sky, the stars beginning to sparkle; people stepped out of their house walking to the street where we all looked to the dimming sky in the Southwest, and there they blazed…two …little…dots.
My daughter, who is ten, looks at me and says, “Oh.” well, she didn’t say it because she is the sweetest and she knew this is something I was interested in, but her eyes said it…oh. We walked down the street a little bit more, and there in the distance, you could see two small bright lights, the two planets drawing closer to one another.
Our corner neighbor stared at the sky from her doorway,
“I think that’s it,” she says.
“Yeah, that’s it.” my husband and I call from the corner.
“Really?” she says with doubt cast in her voice, not at me in particular, but what sounded to be cloaking disappointment, and well, I couldn’t blame her, “There it is, Southwest.” I say back.
“Yeah,” and we all grow quiet.
Later that evening, I have my daughter write down some things about the Great Conjunction she thought was interesting because, you know, for the future and her future grandchildren, which is when I learned she didn’t really find it that interesting. I am sure she is not alone. When my husband and I were outside looking at the sky that evening, he reflected and said, “You know, I don’t really know what these cosmic events are supposed to mean or why I should care. Like the solar eclipses growing up, as a kid, what I was thinking was: is this going to get in the way of me playing outside?”
And we laughed, but his comment did get me thinking, from what perspective does the Great Conjunction matter? While everyone, in this moment struggles to pay their bills, keep their house in order, or think of the next idea that will assist in paying those bills… what is the significance of this alignment of the time, what message (if any) does Jupiter and Saturn have, and what does it really mean to us few who pay attention?