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3 Kings Magi Star of Bethlehem

Secrets of the Christmas Star 
Real astronomers talk about the Star of Bethlehem

What was the Star of Bethlehem?

Was it a planetary conjunction, a supernova outburst, a comet, or a Sign from God?

In this short and fascinating audio series, Astronomer Bill will take you on a scientific adventure of Biblical Proportions.

Christmas Star Episode 1
The first step in solving the mystery.

Christmas Star Episode 2
Was the Star of Bethlehem a meteor or a comet? Astronomer Bill finally lays some theories to rest.

Christmas Star Episode 3
Was the Star of Bethlehem an exploding star -- a nova or supernova outburst?

Christmas Star Episode 4
Was the Star of Bethlehem a planetary conjunction?

Christmas Star Episode 5
What the 3 Wise Men most likely saw in the evening sky on the night of Jesus' birth.

Was the Star of Bethlehem a Meteor or a Comet?

Episode 2:
Was the Star of Bethlehem a Meteor or a Comet?
5 minutes total running time

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Possibly the first idea put forward was that it was an unusually bright fireball meteor seen streaking toward the horizon. But as most skywatchers know, such an object can be seen to flash across the sky in a mere matter of seconds hardly long enough to lead the Magi halfway across the Orient to the little town of Bethlehem. So we can confidently lay this concept to rest.

Not so easily dismissed, however, is the possibility that the Star was a bright comet. Comets can remain visible to the unaided eye for weeks either in the predawn sky or at dusk. It is not impossible to conceive that a comet with a bright star-like head and long gossamer tail pointing like some cosmic finger toward the horizon could have drawn the Magi to Bethlehem.

The famous Halley's Comet, last seen in early 1986, also flared in the sky during August and September in the year 11 BC. However, most authorities dismiss it due to the poor time fit. Although it seems unlikely that another great comet could have appeared nearer to the accepted time frame of the Stars appearance and went unrecorded, we can never really be sure.

Besides, comets were viewed as omens of evil, such as floods and famine as well as the death not the birth of kings and monarchs. The Romans, in marking the death of the Roman General Agrippa, for example, used the 11 BC apparition of Halley's Comet as a benchmark. With this in mind, comets would seem to be wrong as the heavenly sign that would signal the coming of a newborn king.

Star Prophecies

The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena were connected to terrestrial events. Miracles were routinely associated with the birth of important people, including the Hebrew patriarchs. Although not referred to by Matthew, the Star Prophecy in the Book of Numbers was well-known at the time that that the Gospels were written:

"If, then, at the commencement of new dynasties, or on the occasion of other important events, there arises a comet so called, or any similar celestial body, why should it be matter of wonder that at the birth of Him who was to introduce a new doctrine to the human race, and to make known His teaching not only to Jews, but also to Greeks, and to many of the barbarous nations besides, a star should have arisen? Now I would say, that with respect to comets there is no prophecy in circulation to the effect that such and such a comet was to arise in connection with a particular kingdom or a particular time; but with respect to the appearance of a star at the birth of Jesus there is a prophecy of Balaam recorded by Moses to this effect: There shall arise a star out of Jacob, and a man shall rise up out of Israel."

The magi may have decided to travel to Jerusalem when they "conjectured that the man whose appearance had been foretold along with that of the star, had actually come into the world".

Windowpane Observatory

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Christmas Star of Bethlehem

Windowpane Observatory
Ajo, Arizona, USA