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Astronomers' theory of the Star of Bethlehem

Non-Biblical records recall unusual light
Posted at 10:02 PM, Dec 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-26 00:30:23-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The story of the three wise men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus is an enduring part of the Christmas story. And it turns out there is historical and scientific evidence of a special star at a time and place that aligns with accounts in the Bible.
 
Astronomers think it wasn't truly a star but something else that would caught the attention of the wise men of the time.
 
When the Bible says Jesus was born as Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register with the Roman government, historical records independent of the Bible show that was by order of Caesar Augustus in the year Three BC.
 
The Magi are believed to be learned priests of an ancient Persian religion that made precise studies of the night sky.  Michael Magee is the director of UA's Flaudrau Planetarium.  He says many cultures that studied the skies saw something unusual about that time.
 
“There are Chinese writings.  There are Arab writing of the day that all contribute to the history of what was going on and researchers have lots of material to look over to confirm it all."
 
The Flandrau Planetarium features theories about the Star of Bethlehem in the presentation "Season of Light" through January 8th.
 
We celebrate Christmas in the winter because the early Church decided to turn a pagan winter festival into a Christian observance.  Ancient records actually mention a bright star in the east in August of Three BC.
       
But what did they really see?
 
Records do not describe something that looked like a comet.
 
They also do not describe something like a Super Nova---an exploding star.
 
What we know as planets, the ancients called wandering stars because they moved through the night sky.
 
Michael Magee says, “You could say, well it was a bright planet; like we've seen the bright planet Venus both in the evening and the morning.  At times, it's very very bright.  That could easily have been what the bright star was.  The problem is, they knew all about Venus.  They knew when it came up in the morning and it came up in the evening.  They knew that very well so that wasn't anything new."
 
Magee says records show around the time of Caesar Augustus’ order the big bright planet Jupiter lined up three times with the star Regulus, which ancients called the King Star. Ancient sky watchers would see that as a message but modern astronomers say even that was not what became the Star of Bethlehem.
 
Magee says, “Venus, meantime had circled around the Sun and started coming up in the Western sky and it caught up with Jupiter and then on June, roughly June 20th of that following year, I believe it was Two BC, Venus and Jupiter came in such close conjunction that you couldn't tell there were two planets there anymore."
 
To the ancients, two bright planets combined would have been a real beacon in the skies---and the leading candidate for what Christmas tradition calls the Star of Bethlehem.