For hundreds of years, scientists and theologians alike have been perplexed by the origins of the Star of Bethlehem – the mysterious biblical symbol that guided the Magi to their newborn leader, Jesus.
It’s come to be known as the ‘Christmas Star,’ but researchers now say it may not have been a star at all.
A new study of historical, astronomical, and biblical records suggests the event in 6 BC was actually a rare planetary alignment, during which the sun, Jupiter, the moon, and Saturn all lay in the constellation Aries.
Grant Mathews, professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology in the Department of Physics at the University of Notre Dame has studied the Star of Bethlehem for more than a decade.
‘Astronomers, historians, and theologians have pondered the question of the ‘Christmas Star’ for many years,’ said Mathews.
‘Where and when did it appear? What did it look like? If the billions of stars out there, which among them shone bright on that day so long ago?
‘Modern astrophysics is how we attempt to explain one of history’s greatest astronomical events.’
According to the researcher, the sun, Jupiter, the moon, and Saturn were aligned in Aries, while Venus was in the constellation Pisces, and Mercury and Mars were on the other side, in Taurus.
And, when this planetary alignment occurred in 6 BC, Aries was also the location of the vernal equinox.
For the Magi, the Zoroastrian priests of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia – also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings – this alignment in Aries would have symbolized the birth of a newborn ruler in Judea.
Jupiter and the moon together represented the birth of a ruler with a special destiny, while Saturn was the symbol of giving life, according to Mathews.
And, so was the presence of Aries in the vernal equinox, which marks the start of spring.
‘The Magi would have seen this in the east and recognized that it symbolized a regal birth in Judea,’ ultimately leading them in search of the newborn ruler, Mathews said.
An event of this kind is extremely rare; a similar alignment won’t be seen again for another 16,000 years.
But even then, vernal equinox would not be in Aries.
Even calculating 500,000 years into the future, the researcher says no alignment like the one now known as the Christmas Star could be found.
The researcher could help to explain the true nature of the elusive star, and Mathews is working on a book about his findings.
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