A common element in the Christmas story is how the Star of Bethlehem led the three kings or magi to the birthplace of Jesus. Astronomer and Drake University lecturer Herb Schwartz says his years of research shows that bright star actually did exist some two-thousand years ago for a very short time, but it wasn’t really a star.
Schwartz says, “There was actually a conjunction of two planets but what makes this very special is the fact that one planet overrode the other one so that they saw literally two stars combine into one star.” We now know those were the planets of Jupiter and Venus but two millennia ago, all points of light in the night sky were simply thought of as stars.
Schwartz says this very bright “star” that appeared over Bethlehem that long-ago night would have only been visible for a short window of time in a limited area. Schwartz says, “Given the paralax on the earth, the chances are Jerusalem, actually the Middle East, was about the only place where you could actually see it come together as one star and the actual convergence only lasted one day.”
He says there was no recognition of the “star” by Herod, the king of Israel, but the celestial object was obvious to the magi. Schwartz says the magi were followers of astrology so signs in the sky would have been very important to them. He says, “Herod, and the Jews that lived at that time, were expressly forbidden by Judaic law, not to worship the sky, so they made it a point of not watching the sky.”
He says most astronomical phenomenon are repeated and this case is no different, as just last year, there was a near convergence of Jupiter and Venus again, as seen from Earth. Schwartz says the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem is fascinating, even for someone who scientifically studies the heavens. Schwartz says, “Whether it was something that was real or something that was a miracle, I think both could be one in the same.”
Schwartz notes the Star of Bethlehem shows up in pictures and in song and is as much a part of the Holiday Season as the snow on the ground.