Fantastic Friday: Christmas Star

*I’m posting this Fantastic Friday post a day late, after having lost track of time while preparing for Christmas. I never knew how much “Christmas magic” was really just our parents being awesome 🙂 *

For weeks, I had been reading about “the Christmas Star” that would be seen shortly after sunset on the Winter Solstice. Friends, knowing my passion for photographing comets and the Milky Way, tagged me in posts, sent articles, made inquiries. I knew the pressure was on to try to capture this phenomenon, in which Saturn and Jupiter would be closer together than they have been in 800 years from the vantage of our Earth.

I had been practicing taking pictures of the night sky in the exact location the two plants would align, at the exact time, playing with lighting and composition:

My planned shot. The purple-pink of a winter sunset. Silhouette of trees. Clear skies with the potential for longer exposure.

But as the planets grew closer each evening, the weather reports, and my sinus headaches, threatened cloud cover.

2020 had been such a year–I really don’t need to say more, do I?–but the one thing I have been able to count on has been the sky. For some reason, this year has been spectacular, with NEOWISE the comet pushing my interest in astrophotography, then some fantastic shots of the Milky Way from my own back yard, and several unique conjunctions in October.

Enter the Winter Solstice, the day of the “great conjunction.” The day had been a busy one, with several unexpected but time-sensitive (not holiday related) rushed errands needing to be done at certain times. We decided to pick up sandwiches for dinner. I grabbed my camera, knowing that even with the cloud cover, there might be a break long enough to snap a shot of the “Christmas Star” before the clouds returned.

Indeed, we saw it on the way home and pulled into a local elementary school parking lot. I snapped a shot, but there was nothing artistic about it. It was a camera I use primarily for video–I had grabbed it because it was small. My “tripod” was the roof of our minivan. The parking lot was full of lights. The two dots could have been reflections in the lens for all anyone knew.

We raced home, and the kids were thrilled to eat in the car with the heat on and Christmas music playing while their nerdy parents grabbed the telescope and tripod and started snapping.

We only had a window of maybe 10 minutes before the clouds moved back in, but I was able to get a few good shots, which I shared.

The clouds moving in waited long enough for me to get 4 good shots of the planets forming the “Christmas star.”

zoomed in: the planets are not actually overlapping.

I was glad for having snapped the shots, but I wasn’t thrilled. Still, I posed the images, hoping to please the several friends who had tagged me in the last few weeks hoping I might photography the alignment.

Several friends thanked me for sharing, as their skies had been covered. I remembered feeling taunted as clouds moved over the planets, then blew away again before finally returning with a vengeance, but after reading the relief in my friends’ comments–relief that I had captured the event on camera–I felt incredibly lucky. It was the universe winking. Yep, this historic alignment of planets was covered in clouds, but here I was given a simple chance–rather than no chance.

The next day, with the planets almost as close, proved cloud covered as well–but slightly less so. I had a bit more time to play around with settings and composition:

December 22, 2020: a second chance. Because the skies were *slightly* more clear, I could take pictures a bit earlier, meaning better lighting, before cloud cover took over.

In the end, this Christmas star I was able to capture reminded me about gratitude. It seems I am most unhappy when thinking about what I don’t have and happiest when appreciating what I do. This Christmas star, despite its short-lived appearance, was just the reminder I needed as we round out this year.

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