A Star Under One Sky

Friends, family, neighbors, everyone is asking if I know about the Christmas star event coming on December 21st.  Then the say “of course you know, you study that stuff”.

By the way, December 21st is Winter Solstice.  The long night.

If you are not up to speed, this event is the culmination of a Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn.  They have appeared in the same part of the sky for quite a while, getting closer each day.  On December 21st after sunset these two bright and beautiful planets will appear to be nearly on top of each other in the southwestern sky.  Their combined brightness should be visually stunning.  They should appear close enough to see together in a low/medium power telescope eyepiece or binoculars.

If it’s not cloudy this will be a treat.

So, what about the Christmas star?

For Christians the Christmas star, aka star of Bethlehem account comes from the gospel of Matthew.  But the narrative runs deeper.  The star of Bethlehem also has connection with messianic Jewish prophecy from the Book of Numbers, The Star Prophecy.  A star was to appear above the place where the new messiah (liberator, savior) would be born.  Matthew’s gospel describes such an occurrence, where a bright star appears in the east, inspiring and guiding three Magi who travelled to witness.  But they end up in Jerusalem, where king Herod’s scribes suggest going to Bethlehem based on verse from the Book of Micah.

So, even in Matthew’s account the star isn’t a great signpost, as the Magi end up north of Bethlehem.  Nevertheless, it is accounted in Matthew, and the stars nature has been a source of conjecture for centuries. What was the star of Bethlehem?

A number of celestial events occurred around the time of Christ’s birth (6-2 BC) that might have been a source of inspiration for the Magi.

Comet:  Chinese and Korean astronomers documented a comet’s appearance around 5 BC.  Halley’s comet would have been visible around 12 BC.  Did Jewish prophets consider comets bad omens or good omens?

Supernova or Nova: Chinese and Korean records indicate the observation of a nova or supernova in 4 BC.

Heliacal Rising:  The Magi saw a star in the east.  They might have meant they saw a star rising in the east, before sunrise.

Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon:  Two happened in 6 BC and might have been regarded as predicting the birth of a king.

Conjunctions:  Several conjunctions occurred between 7 BC and 2 BC, any of which might be construed as a new star or prophetic event.  Jupiter and Saturn, Jupiter and Regulus, Jupiter and Venus.

There is no consensus regarding what the star of Bethlehem was.  What we do know is it occurred in the one sky we all on Earth share, no matter our beliefs.  Merry Christmas.

What’s in the Sky?

December 21; all night; North:  The Ursid Meteor Shower