One of the enduring symbols of Christmas and The Nativity is the star the wise men followed to greet the baby Jesus.
The star of Bethlehem as it became to be known, has been researched extensively and there are several hypotheses as to which celestial body the Magi (Wise Men) followed to reach a stable in Bethlehem.
Some have said in years gone by that they followed the North Star or Polaris. The North Star isn’t the brightest star in the sky, that title belongs to Sirius. The North Star is around the 47th or so brightest star so it doesn’t really add up for the purposes of the story.
Astronomy isn’t a recent phenomenon with the discovery of the telescope. Celestial observations have been noted for millennia. At that time celestial happenings were often interpreted as a sign of a curse, omen or in this case a miracle.
Professor David Hughes released a paper in the 1970s to hypothesise what the star of Bethlehem actually was. An alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Earth and The Sun is one possibility. What we would call a Triple Conjuction. This event would happen every 900 years or so. Sadly we won’t see this in our lifetime at all. It would be very striking and visible with the naked eye.
Another explanation is a bright comet. The tail, which almost always points away from the sun, is what makes this theory somewhat popular explains Hughes.
“Quite a few people have said that comets seem to ‘stand over’ the Earth, because of their coma and tail sometimes looking like an arrow,” says Hughes.
One of the earliest noted comets was a bright comet appearing in the constellation of Capricorn in 5BC, which was recorded by astronomers in China.
Another candidate, although less likely is Halley’s Comet although it was sighted in 12BC. Comets can surprise us all at different intervals, especially those with massive orbits that come in from the Kuiper Belt every several hundred years.
In my last post I discussed Omuamua, our visitor from another solar system. Our Sun orbits the centre of the galaxy every few hundred thousand years and in this orbit our solar system can encounter debris fields. My own guess for a candidate would be a very bright and large extra solar visitor that shot across the night sky at that time.
I suppose we will get our answer in around 298,000 years when the sun comes back to the same point it was at the time of the supposed birth of Christ.
Merry Christmas/Happy New Year.