Astronomer finds what may have been the 'Star of Bethlehem'

CHRISTMAS STAR: Could an ancient alignment of planets be the fabled star we see in our skies this time of year? Photo: scriptoriusrex

CHRISTMAS STAR: Could an ancient alignment of planets be the fabled star we see in our skies this time of year? Photo: scriptoriusrex

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 it’s 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 purely a divine sign or was it an astronomical event in its own right?

I did some investigating and think we’ve found an answer or at least something that fits all the known facts, writes Dave Reneke from Australasian Science Magazine. 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 have a look at the night sky of Christ’s time to see if they could spot the Christmas star?

STAR SEEKER: Astronomer Dave Reneke ponders the real meaning of the fabled ‘Christmas Star.’ Photo: D Reneke

STAR SEEKER: Astronomer Dave Reneke ponders the real meaning of the fabled ‘Christmas Star.’ Photo: D Reneke

Well, I did. Get ready for a surprise, because it looks like it 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.

Historical records and computer simulations indicate there was a rare series of planetary groupings during the years 3 and 2 BC. 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 10 months later, on June 17, 2BC, they appeared to actually join up in the constellation Leo! This time they were so close that, without binoculars, they would have looked like one single brilliant white beacon of light.

The whole sequence could have been enough for the ‘three wise men’ to see this as a 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 astrology works, or 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!

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