One of the most important themes of Christmas is the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas Star. No Christmas tree is without it shining from the very top. The Christmas story found in the Bible talks about “three wise men from the East” who followed the star to witness the birth of Jesus. What was this “star” and was it a real astronomical phenomenon?
Was it an exploding star? The famous astronomer Johannes Kepler first suggested that the Christmas star could have been a nova or a supernova. The Chinese, who kept very thorough records of everything happening up there, have one possible mention of an exploding star from the time. However, no supernova remnant has been found providing a smoking gun of the event in the sky.
How about a bright comet? One point in favor of this theory is that comets do slowly move across the sky in their orbit around the sun as the Biblical records suggest. However, no Chinese records have been found of a bright comet visible at the correct time.
Maybe it was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. These two planets do come together every 20 years or so. We witnessed one of these a couple of years ago. The astronomer Kepler also suggested a conjunction as a possible Star of Bethlehem.
Could it have been a conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and the star Regulus? In this idea the mythology of these celestial bodies come into play. Jupiter is often regarded as the King of the planets. Venus is the symbol of fertility and birth, and the name Regulus means the prince.
I will leave it up to you to decide which one if any could have been the real Christmas Star. Maybe those guys from the east just imagined the whole thing. Take a moment to spend some time out under the night sky this Christmas. Jupiter is blazing in the east just after it gets dark. Look for the bright stars of Orion in the southeast. At about 9 p.m. the Northern Cross will be standing up right in the northwest.
On Jan. 4, the earth reaches an important point in its orbit around the sun. It is called perihelion and it is our closest distance to the sun. We are about 3 million miles closer than at the opposite point in July. I know this sounds strange since it is cold in January, but our seasons are caused by our tilt towards the sun and not our distance from it. We are also traveling through space at our fastest then, a dizzying 67,693 miles per hour!