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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.

Episode 4:
Was the Star of Bethlehem a Planetary Conjunction?
5 minutes total running time

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Was the Star of Bethlehem a Planetary Conjunction?

The final possibility is one or more of the 5 bright naked eye planets -- Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn

Another Star of Bethlehem candidate is Uranus, which passed close to Saturn in 9 BC and Venus in 6 BC. This is unlikely because Uranus moves very slowly and is only dimly visible In truth, the likelihood that the Magi could have confused one or more of the familiar planets with a star actually seems remote.

However, sometimes two or more of these restless wanderers come together in a striking conjunction. Perhaps a planetary grouping of particular beauty; an exceptionally close conjunction of two planets or groupings of three or more creating an eye-catching geometric figure in the sky may have taken place between the years 7 and 2 BC. A gathering like that would be quite unusual to the unexpecting eye.

One such event that is often cited occurred on the evening of Feb. 25, 6 BC involving Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and happened in the constellation of Pisces, the Fishes. If you have ever visited a planetarium for the traditional Christmas show, you probably already know the thrill of watching as the planetarium projector races back through time to recreate this unusual event.

Another possible explanation for the Star of Bethlehem is the three-times passing of Jupiter and Saturn between May and December in 7 BC; a rare triple or "great conjunction." Jupiter appeared to pass one degree north of Saturn on May 29; practically the same on Sept. 30; then finally a third time on Dec. 5.

There is no doubt about the visibility of these events, mostly opposite to the Sun in nighttime skies. As for their astrological impact, the Magi would have certainly noticed that both planets did not appear to separate widely between their conjunctions. In fact, for eight consecutive months the time it might have taken to travel the 500 miles or more from Babylonia to Judea Jupiter and Saturn remained within three degrees of each other, from late April of 7 BC until early January of 6 BC.

A fist held on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.

But perhaps no other planetary grouping can equal that of the two brightest planets Venus and Jupiter for the explanation that we seek. And if we take the only known account of the Star literally, as given in St. Matthew, then what we really need is the appearance of not just one, but two "stars." The first appearance would have been seen well in advance of the Magis arrival in Bethlehem, and the other at the end of their long journey.

In Hellenistic astrology, Jupiter was the king planet and Regulus (in the constellation Leo) was the king star. As they traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the star "went before" the magi and then "stood over" the place where Jesus was. In astrological interpretations, these phrases are said to refer to retrograde motion and to stationing, i.e., Jupiter appeared to reverse course for a time, then stopped, and finally resumed its normal progression. In 3–2 BC, there was a series of seven conjunctions, including three between Jupiter and Regulus and a strikingly close conjunction between Jupiter and Venus near Regulus on June 17, 2 BC. "The fusion of two planets would have been a rare and awe-inspiring event" - according to some astronomers.

Others have proposed a link between a double occultation of Jupiter by the moon in 6 BC in Aries and the Star of Bethlehem, particularly the second occultation on April 17. This event was quite close to the sun and would have been difficult to observe, even with a small telescope, which had not yet been invented. Occultations of planets by the moon are quite common, but an astrologer to Roman Emperor Constantine wrote that an occultation of Jupiter in Aries was a sign of the birth of a divine king.

"When the royal star of Zeus, the planet Jupiter, was in the east this was the most powerful time to confer kingships. Furthermore, the Sun was in Aries where it is exalted. And the Moon was in very close conjunction with Jupiter in Aries"

This set of planetary conditions reoccurs every sixty years.

Windowpane Observatory

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Christmas Star of Bethlehem

Windowpane Observatory
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