The Great Conjunction: NASA explain upcoming space event
December 21 will see the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, where they will appear to be as one in the night’s sky, forming what appears to be a bright star. The two planets will be the closest they have been, from our perspective on Earth, since 1226. But could the Great Conjunction be responsible for the biblical story of the Star of Bethlehem?
According to the Bible, a star appeared in the sky which guided the three wise men to the stable where Jesus Christ was born to shower him in gifts.
In Matthew 2:9, it says: “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
In astronomical terms, there is no star which matches the description of the Star of Bethlehem.
This either leaves three options: A miraculous star appeared to guide the three wise men to the newly born messiah, there was no star at all and the account is fictional, or a rare astronomical event took place which could have been misconstrued as a star – such as the Great Conjunction.
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According to astronomical records, there were several conjunctions between 6 and 5BC.
One of these involved Jupiter and Mars, and the other being Jupiter and Saturn.
This tells scientists that if the story of Christ is true, in scientific terms the Star of Bethlehem may have been a conjunction with Jupiter and another planet.
Earth Sky said: “There is some uncertainty about the use of the word for star in the Greek manuscript.
“Some contend that the word could have meant or implied an object other than a physical star.
“There’s even some possibility that Jupiter was involved in the original ‘Christmas star’ story.
“Some believe the Christmas star was really a conjunction – or close meeting – of Jupiter with two other planets, Saturn and Mars.
“Planets were ‘wandering stars’ to the ancients, and to many they bore great astrological or mystical significance.
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“Astronomers know that there was a series of such conjunctions in 6 and 5 BC, occurring in the constellation Pisces (the Fishes), said by some to be the astrological ‘sign of the Jews.’
“To add more credence for later Christian writers such as Matthew, the sign of a fish later became the secret sign for Christians.”
Another possibility is that the Star of Bethlehem may have been a supernova of a relatively nearby star, which shone briefly and brightly.
Ancient astronomers in China in 5BC show there was indeed a supernova, but this was in the west and unlikely to have ‘led’ the three wise men.
However, the story is likely to remain a Christmas mystery forever.
Earth Sky said: “Unless some major and indisputable archaeological discovery is found to settle the question once and for all, the mystery of what the Christmas Star was will remain in the realm of faith.
“Science cannot explain it as any known physical object; history offers no clear record; and religion offers only an untestable miraculous apparition.”
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