Thu, 20 Dec 2018
Jupiter & Venus are just a cat's ears apart Picture: Richard Fleet
THE planet Venus has now moved into the morning sky and will be visible low down in the south east just before dawn throughout the Christmas period.
There are many theories about whether the Star of Bethlehem was a real astronomical object. If it was, it must have been something extraordinary, as our ancestors were familiar with the ordinary movements of the stars and planets.
Some have suggested it was a comet and Halley’s Comet was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 12BC, which is too early, and another faint comet was seen in 5BC, but comets were considered bad omens, so unlikely to herald the birth of a king.
The sudden violent explosion of a star, known as a supernova, could have caused a bright new star to appear in the sky; however, if this star had been in our galaxy, we would almost certainly be able to see its remains. Also, Chinese astronomers were always on the lookout for such ‘guest stars’, but didn’t record any at the right time.
The most popular theory is that the Three Wise Men were astrologers and could have interpreted a rare alignment of the planets to signify the birth of a king of the Jews. One possible alignment happened in the year 7BC when the planets Jupiter and Saturn came close together in the constellation of Pisces, the Fish. Another happened on April 17, 6BC, when the moon passed in front of the planet Jupiter at sunrise, an occurrence said to foretell a royal birth. Lastly, on June 17, 2BC, the planets Venus and Jupiter came very close together near the star Regulus in the constellation of Leo the Lion – the king of the beasts.
Venus and Jupiter will again be close together, sparkling away low down in the south east, just before sunrise between January 20 and 26, 2019 – but this time they will be in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, which has no connection with royal births.
Whatever the explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, you can look out and enjoy our very own Christmas Star this winter.