What was the star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem: The Secret of the Star

Everyone knows the star of Bethlehem, but astronomers still argue about its actual existence. Was it a comet, a supernova, or maybe a planetary conjunction? We reveal which scientific explanation is the most conclusive

It adorns the tops of many Christmas trees, it is a fixture in the annual nativity play and everyone can hum along with the Christmas catchy tune "Star over Bethlehem": No question - everyone knows the famous Star of Bethlehem, a central Christmas theme.

According to the Christmas story of the Gospel of Matthew, the bright star in the night sky led the three wise men on their way to Bethlehem. So the wise men from the east found the stable in which the baby Jesus was born.

What is behind the star of Bethlehem?

It is clear to scientists today that the Star of Bethlehem was not a star in the true sense of the word. And when trying to derive historical facts from texts that are thousands of years old, there is always a touch of naivety. Because the subject of research could simply have been the result of a particularly creative storyteller.

But stories, like the Christmas story in the Bible, often have a real core. If the team of three has not seen the star of Bethlehem, what could the three men from the Orient actually have seen in the sky on the night of Christ's birth?

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This question has preoccupied generations of researchers for centuries. The search for the star of Bethlehem is almost as old as Christianity itself - and the wildest theories developed.

Supernova, comet, planetary conjunction - what could be seen in the sky when Christ was born?

They held you for centuries Comets for the bright signpost in the sky. However, since comets were not regarded as messengers of salvation, but rather as bringing disaster in ancient times, this is rather unlikely. For why should a doer of evil announce the birth of Jesus in the night sky?

A second theory is that the poinsettia is one Supernova been - that is, the short and bright flashing of a star in the night sky at the end of its life through a powerful explosion. What speaks against the supernova theory, however, is that such a conspicuous celestial phenomenon would not have gone unnoticed by star explorers in ancient times. At the birth of Jesus, for which a period between 7 and 4 BC is assumed, the astronomers recorded no such supernova.

A third - and also the most likely - theory is that the Star of Bethlehem was one Planetary conjunction - in other words, a particularly close encounter between two planets, through which both planets shine together like a very bright star in the sky when viewed from earth.

In fact, in the year 7 BC, two planets, namely Jupiter and Saturn, were moving very close to each other. This "great conjunction" took place in the constellation of Pisces and, strictly speaking, was even a rare one "triple conjunction"Because both planets were overtaken by our earth at the same time. Therefore, Jupiter and Saturn apparently stayed in the sky standwhat knowledgeable sky observers may have noticed. This description fits the biblical story of the evangelist Matthew.

Another indication that the glow of Jupiter and Saturn could have been interpreted as the star of Bethlehem is that Jupiter was considered the king's planet and Saturn was the "planet of the people of Israel". The constellation "Pisces" was also a symbol for the land of Judea. From this extraordinary constellation, the three wise men from the Orient could quickly have concluded: A new king is born!

The astronomer Johannes Kepler also believed in the theory of planetary conjunction. In 1603, on Christmas morning, the scientist observed the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sky over Prague. The celestial phenomenon happens about every 20 years: it takes Jupiter almost twelve and Saturn 30 years to walk once around the sun and through all the zodiac constellations. Therefore, Jupiter overtakes the slower Saturn every 20 years. Johannes Kepler did the math and came to the conclusion: In the year 7 BC, the planets Jupiter and Saturn had come very close!

But even if the evidence is increasing, researchers are still not one hundred percent sure that the poinsettia was such a planetary conjunction. The star of Bethlehem is and will remain a mystery - at least for now.

On December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will meet again

Whether the poinsettia was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn or not - shortly before Christmas we can observe the rare celestial phenomenon even in the night sky! Because as close as Jupiter and Saturn come on the longest night of the year on December 21, 2020, the two gas planets - seen from Earth - have not been together for a long time. Most recently, Jupiter and Saturn came similarly close in 1623.

On December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn are only 0.1 degrees apart in the sky, the two gas giants then merge to form a large bright planet in the evening sky. Only in the year 2080 will there be a similar rapprochement between the two planets with a major conjunction.

If you want to observe the Great Conjunction, you should have as clear a view as possible to the southwest. Both planets can be seen deep in the southwest at dusk and set again after 6 p.m.