Tis the season and every year around this time people notice the brilliant ‘star’ to the west around sunset. Astronomers know it’s the planet Venus, but for a lot of folk it conjures up thoughts of the Christmas Star. Well, it is big, and bright, and its getting close to the big day so, was the Christmas Star real?
The ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is one of the most powerful, and enigmatic symbols of Christianity. For centuries historians have debated the nature of this biblical light that heralded the birth of Jesus. Was it a divine sign, or was it an astronomical event in its own right?
I became curious and did some investigating and think we’ve found an answer, or at least something that fits all the known facts. With modern astronomy software programs astronomers can reproduce the night sky exactly as it was, thousands of years ago. Wouldn’t it be good if they could go back and have a look at the night sky of Christ’s time to see if they could spot the Christmas star?
Well, I did. Get ready for a surprise, because it looks like the ‘Christmas Star’ really did exist. Armed with an approximate date for the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s version of the Bible I began a search for the star of Bethlehem.
Now, historical records and our own computer simulations indicate that there was a rare series of planetary groupings, known as conjunctions, during the years 3 B.C. and 2 B.C. As we watched the screen, the two brightest planets Venus and Jupiter started moving closer together. Wow! Like the final pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, our fabled biblical beacon started to reveal itself.
The crowning touch came ten months later, on 17 June 2BC, as Venus and Jupiter appeared to actually join up in the constellation Leo! This time the two planets were so close that, without binoculars, they would have looked like one single brilliant white beacon of light.
The whole sequence of events could have been enough for the ‘three wise men’ to see this as sign in the heavens that the Messiah had been, or was about to be, born.
Was this the fabled Christmas star? Maybe. But this doesn’t mean that astrology works, or that Jesus was a Gemini, not a Capricorn. It does however make the search more rewarding to find a truly interesting and real astronomical event that happened during the most likely time for the Nativity. Merry Christmas!
PHOTO: Dave Reneke ponders the real meaning of the fabled ‘Christmas Star.’