It’s practically the theme today, even though Epiphany is still a couple of weeks off, but the Associated Press’ weekly faith feature, Religion Today, just happens to be on the latest astronomical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem:
As a theoretical astrophysicist, Grant Mathews had hoped the answer would be spectacular – something like a supernova. But two years of research have led him to a more ordinary conclusion. The heavenly sign around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ was likely an unusual alignment of planets, the sun and the moon.
The star, though, has long been immortalized in Christmas songs, plays and movies. Astronomers, theologians and historians for hundreds of years have been trying to determine exactly which star might have inspired the biblical writing. German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed in 1604 that the star was a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C.
The advantage Mathews has over Kepler and others who have pondered the question is that he had access to NASA’s databases.
“In principle, we can see any star that was ever made from the beginning of time if we knew where to look. So the question is, could we find a star that could be a good candidate for what showed up then?” he said.
Mathews found two possible supernovas in the right period, but said one was probably too low on the horizon to be seen. The other supernova is known as Kes 75. But it was 60,000 light years away and may not have been particularly spectacular.
“There’s no real convincing evidence this happened right at 2000 years ago, but it could be in the range of being right because it’s in the right location,” he said.
He also found a number of nova that also could have been the Christmas star. The one he thinks is the most likely candidate is known as Nova Aquilae V603. The problem with novas and comets, though, is that they were believed in ancient times to be a sign of disaster, not a portent of good things to come.
For that reason, Mathews believes the Christmas star is most likely an alignment of planets. He said there are three likely times for this:
-Feb. 20, 6 B.C., when Mars, Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the constellation Pisces.
-April 17, 6 B.C., when the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn aligned in the constellation Aries while Venus and Mars were in neighboring constellations.
-June 17, 2 B.C., when Jupiter and Venus were closely aligned in Leo.
Mathews believes the April 17, 6 B.C., alignment is the most likely candidate. It makes sense because he believes the wise men were Zoroastrian astrologers who would have recognized the planetary alignment in Aries as a sign a powerful leader was born.
Read it all here.