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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.

What the 3 Wise Men Most Likely Saw in the Night Sky

Episode 5:
What the 3 Wise Men Most Likely Saw in the Night Sky
5 minutes total running time

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Perhaps the signal for the Christmas Star was to be a sign in the constellation of Leo, the Lion.

To the early Israelites, Leo was a constellation of great astrological significance and considered a sacred part of the sky. A very close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m. on Aug. 12, 3 BC.

When they first emerged above the eastern horizon, the two planets were separated by only about two-fifths of the Moons apparent diameter or 12 minutes of arc. As a comparison, the separation of the stars Mizar and Alcor in the handle of the Big Dipper is also 12 minutes. Planets this close are very striking, if they don't differ too much in brightness.

Incidentally, Matthew wrote that the Magi stated in their meeting with King Herod: "We have seen his Star in the East and have come to worship him." It has never been clear if they saw the star in the eastern sky, or if they saw it from the East. The fact that the Aug. 12, 3 BC conjunction of Venus and Jupiter occurred in the eastern sky and may have also started the Magi on the journey (from the East) to Bethlehem means that both bases are covered with their statement -- reported by St. Matthew -- to King Herod.

Venus ultimately vanished into the glare of the Sun, but Jupiter and Leo remained in the night sky during the next ten months. During this time a number of additional planetary conjunctions took place, all of which would have been of great importance to the priest-astrologers of the time.

Then, during June of 2 BC, as Jupiter and the stars of Leo began to sink into the western evening twilight, Venus again returned to this same region of the sky for an even more spectacular encore.

The Magi certainly would have especially taken note that on the evening of June 17, when Jupiter and Venus appeared even closer together than they did in the dawn skies of the previous August. As the planets slowly descended toward the horizon they got closer and closer together.

Finally, at 8:30 p.m. local time they drew to within a mere 0.6 of an arc minute of each other while appearing to hover some 15 above the western horizon. To the Magi the two brightest planets must have appeared to coalesce into one and glowed before them like a dazzling beacon over Judea. Eyeglasses were many centuries in the future, so only people with perfect eyes would have seen the planets separated.

But whether anyone actually observed them, and if any of these sent the Magi on their historic journey, are all matters for conjecture.

And finally, was the Star of Bethlehem truly a miracle star? Indeed, a star of stars appearing just once in the history of man? Reaching a conclusion on this subject is not easy, for any natural theory for the Star of Bethlehem can only be at best, just an educated guess.

Perhaps this is a mystery that modern science can never truly unravel. Astronomy has taken us as far as it can go.

The final decision is yours, alone.

Windowpane Observatory

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Christmas Star of Bethlehem

Windowpane Observatory
Ajo, Arizona, USA