As Jupiter and Saturn appeared to line up at dusk Monday night, so did many Pickens County stargazers who went to different open spaces to see the Great Conjunction of 2020. Along the overlook areas of Burnt Mountain Road, vehicles lined both sides of the road and crowded into the parking areas with people scanning the skies with all manner of binocular, telescopes and the naked eye.
While conjunctions occur fairly often, this one was special as the positions of Saturn and Jupiter made them especially visible from Earth, something that last occurred 800 years ago. This conjunction also had the benefit of timing with Christmas approaching, as the same Saturn and Jupiter pairing, where they are so close that they actually look like one bigger and brighter star and is called the Bethlehem Star by many. It is believed to have been observed near the time of the birth of Christ and is the star referenced in the Bible.
And it was the winter solstice as well.
Comments among the crowd at the lookout ranged from excited to be seeing something rare, especially with the Christmas connection, to some that expressed a little disappointment expecting a little more of a visual show.
There were also quite a few people verifying with others that the star, low in the sky and brighter than the rest by a little, but not overwhelming magnitude, was really the one everyone was there to see.
After dark, a couple of people expressed some wonder at just how many stars, aside from the Bethlehem Star, were visible from our Burnt Mountain vantage point.
One person commented that it was nice to be out with fellow residents for a holiday gathering, even one arranged by celestial bodies more than 550 million miles away, in this year of pandemic.