(1) That the star was a “one-shot” occurrence - never before seen and has
seen since; it was placed in the sky by God to announce the birth of His Son;
(2) That the Star was added to the story of the Nativity after the fact;
(3) That the Star was a real, documentable astronomical object;
(4)That the entire New Testament was falsified.
If you subscribe to the first theory, then we, as astronomers, have nothing to talk about. It was a supernatural miracle that defies scientific explanation.
There is a certain amount of credence to the second theory. At the time of Jesus' birth, very few people recognized its significance. The only time the Star is
mentioned at all is in the Book of Matthew.
As bizarre as the fourth theory may seem at first glance, there is a certain amount of credence to it, also. This theory holds that the entire New Testament was written by members of the Roman ruling family, for the specific purpose of splitting the Jewish people as a political and religious entity
For our purposes, however, we shall subscribe to the third theory - that the Star of Bethlehem was a genuine astronomical occurrence.
It is generally accepted by most scholars that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 1 BC. There are a number of historical markers that allow us to pin the
date down to in this time period. There were also some incredibly spectacular astronomical events that occurred during this period as well.
In 7 BC there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. All three meetings of the two planets occurred in the constellation Pisces, long associated with the
Hebrew nation, a phenomenon that occurs only once every approximately 900 years. The first conjunction occurred in late May, the second in September, and the
third in early December. Although the two planets never came closer together than about two diameters of the moon, and therefore could hardly have been seen as a single star, these events would have had great significance to the trained astronomers of the time. Jupiter was known as the “planet of Kings” and Saturn as
the “Protector of the Jews”. This could easily have been interpreted as a sign that the Jewish Messiah had been, or was about to be, born.
In February of 6 BC a massing of three planets occurred, again in the constellation Pisces, when Jupiter, Mars and Saturn came within 8 degrees of each other. This
event occurs only once every 800 years, approximately, and again, would have had great significance to the astronomers of the time. Both of these rare events would have been predicted by the ancient astronomers.
However, these astronomical events, exciting as they were, pale by comparison to the events of an 18 month period during 3-2 BC.
On May 19, 3 BC, the planets Saturn and Mercury were in close conjunction - within 40’ (minutes of arc) of each other. Then Saturn moved eastward through the
stars to meet with Venus on June 12, 3BC. During this conjunction the two were only 7.2’ apart. And if this weren’t enough, on August 12, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus came into close conjunction just before sunrise, coming within 4.2’ from each other as viewed from earth, and appearing as a very bright morning star. This conjunction took place in the constellation Cancer, the “end” sign of the Zodiac. Ten months later, on June 17 2BC, Venus and Jupiter joined again, this time in the constellation Leo. The two planets were at best 6” (arc seconds) apart; some calculations indicate that they actually overlapped each other. This conjunction occurred during the evening and would have appeared as one very bright star. Even if they were 6” apart, it would have required the sharpest of eyes to split the two, because of their brightness.
Another rare astronomical event occurred 72 days after the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, on August 27, 2 BC. This was a close grouping, or massing, of the
planets Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. It also occurred in the constellation Leo.
Just 33 days after the Jupiter/Venus “morning star” conjunction, on August 12, 3 BC, Jupiter came to within 19.8’ of Regulus. Regulus, the chief star in Leo, lay
practically in the path of the Sun, and was therefore afforded the additional epithet of “Royal Star”. Here was the “King planet” now coming into contact with
the “King Star”. AND in the Royal Constellation. If viewed in isolation to other astronomical occurrences this single event might not have been significant to
astrologers, but combined with the other celestial displays of 3 to 2 BC, it soon took on increased symbolic meaning. This is because the first conjunction began a
series of three meetings of Jupiter and Regulus that occurred in a precise sequential pattern. Jupiter first united with Regulus and then continued on its
normal journey through the heavens. On December 1, 3 BC, Jupiter stopped its motion through the fixed stars and began its annual “retrograde” motion. In doing
so, it once again headed toward Regulus. Then on February 17, 2 BC, the two were reunited, 51’ apart. Jupiter continued its retrograde motion another 40 days and then it reverted to its normal motion through the stars. Remarkably, this movement once again placed Jupiter into a third conjunction with Regulus on May 8, 2 BC. They were then 43.2’ apart.
To astrologers, it appeared as though the King Planet was circling over and around Regulus, the King Star, “homing in” on it and pointing out the significance of
the King Star as it related to the King Planet. This circular movement of Jupiter over Regulus would, in all probability, have signaled that a great king was then
destined to appear.
Some scholars assert that the Star was only visible to the Magi; this is misleading, if not totally false. The stars and planets were there for all to see;
but it took the training of the Magi to understand the significance of their positions.
Through the years there has been some misunderstanding about the star due to a mistranslation of Matthew in the King James version of the Bible. The King James
version has the Magi saying “we have seen his star in the east”. A more accurate translation is “we have seen his star at its rising”. Most of their daily
observations took place in the early morning hours, during which they would have seen the Jupiter/Venus conjunction of August, 3 BC. They then searched for further signs, and found them, in the triple conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus. Then, on June 17, 2 BC, Jupiter again joined with Venus, this time in the early evening. This conjunction, in all probability, was what brought the Magi to Jerusalem. The Magi, observing this conjunction from Mesopotamia, would have seen this
conjunction on the western horizon, precisely in the direction of Judaea. But the conjunction would have only been visible for a short time, before setting in the
western horizon. Yet Matthew’s account of the star has the Magi following it westward, until it stopped at the place where the child was born.
Now let’s take another look at the astronomical events of the 18 month period in
3-2 BC again. What is the one thing they all have in common, with the exception of the Saturn/Mercury conjunction? The planet Jupiter.
After leaving its massing with Mars, Saturn, and Venus on August 27, 2 BC Jupiter continued its apparent motion westward each morning, as viewed by the Magi at their regular pre-dawn observations. This westward motion would have led them to Jerusalem. Jupiter then, due to retrograde motion, appeared to “stop” in the sky, as viewed from Jerusalem, directly to the south, over Bethlehem. It came to its normal stationary position at dawn on December 25th, 2 BC. Not only that, but the planet came to a stop in the constellation Virgo. It remained there for nearly six days.Furthermore, being near the Winter Solstice, the sun was also “standing still”.
In conclusion, it was the first Jupiter/Venus conjunction of August 12, 3 BC in the constellation Cancer that alerted the Magi to look for further signs. They found
them - in the triple conjunction of Jupiter in Regulus in the constellation Leo. But it was the second conjunction, on June 17, 2 BC, in the evening, of Jupiter and Venus, in the constellation Leo, that started the Magi on their way west. Although the Magi probably had predicted these celestial events in advance, they wanted
confirmation that their predictions would come to pass. The “star” they followed was the planet Jupiter, the King Planet, which, having gone through its retrograde
motion, appeared to stand still on precisely December 25, 2 BC in the southern sky -and from Jerusalem it would appear that Jupiter had come to rest directly over
Bethlehem. It remained stationary for 6 days, and to add to the symbolic significance, it was stationary in the center, or perhaps “womb”, of the
From the President’s Desk.....
Happy Holidays! I do hope you and those close to you have enjoyed a wonderful holiday season. As we approach the new year we
can all hope for a more stable world political and economic environment. We will move away from the past few years’ doom and gloom by anticipating the coming best of times. The pendulum will swing from right to left, from doom and gloom, from confrontation to the world population working together for the improvement of all.
Our world will find common ground from which we can move mankind forward. We will move toward improved relationships between governments, religions, and races. There will be more listening and less belligerence. Closer to home, very much closer to home…what does 2004 hold for your astronomical future and for Delmarva Star Gazers? It depends…on you and all of those who identify themselves as Star Gazers. Individually, you can continue status quo, improve, or move away from amateur astronomy. We certainly hope you avoid option #3. As a group we will strive for improving our position. How will we improve our connection to AA? This morning my crystal ball is snow covered…so much of what we do depends on the weather. It is frustrating to plan, plan, plan and have the weather and especially commercially motivated weather-people compromise our possibilities for success. I do not have a neatly packaged solution for this situation.
I do believe we can mitigate the effects of actual weather and the commercially motivated weather forecasts by emphasizing that our events offer much more than time at the eyepiece. It is up to us to improve our offerings. ight pollution and access to observing areas plus travel time to/from the observing site also subtract from actual “viewing objects through the eyepiece”. We can’t stand in the way of houses being built – each of us lives in a house that took someone’s favorite field and added
light pollution to skies that were darker then than now. Our observing sites are mostly remote from where we live to escape the glare of street lights.
Here, I believe we must turn to technology and economics to improve our future. As light becomes more expensive, our amateur astronomy community should provide information on how to reduce the lumens required to properly illuminate the neighborhoods. By recognizing the light generation and energy cost
problem and offering a solution that saves the homeowner dollars while improving the quality of the night sky we will have a win-win.
If we build it they will come – “it”, reduced energy cost, directed light, darker skies…is possible and will result in happier homeowners and amateur
astronomers. We should not limit our focus just to homeowners - our municipalities’ governing bodies must recognize the cost of excessive, improper lighting and the effects it has on local budgets. There is so much we can do for ourselves, for our energy budgets, and for the future of amateur astronomers…this should be a
prime topic at every meeting. I mentioned technology. The marrying of telescopes, computer hardware and software, film and digital cameras, better tracking systems, better optical coating systems, always improving engineering, and cheap Chinese labor, bode well for us.
Again, my crystal ball is snow covered because I don’t know where the amateur astronomy market will take us. As long as dollars are available
in the market place there will be opportunistic people and businesses chasing the dollars. So, I guess our functions here are to continue to offer ideas on how to incorporate new concepts into our hobby and to provide dollars for those “I just gotta have one” items provided by the entrepreneurs.
Communications! We must make our interest in astronomy known to our community.
Advertising is best accomplished by offering something to the community – freely. This past year we have presented Mars viewing sessions, observing
programs for schools, special programs for many different groups, and information for the communities through newspaper articles. New ideas
for improving this flow of information to our communities are necessary for continued success.
Information for every astronomical event should be offered to the media in 2004; we should not wait for the media to contact us.
We must communicate amongst ourselves Currently, we do this monthly via our meetings and a newsletter either in hardcopy or on the
website. We also use the Internet Yahoo groups function for day-to-day communications for those who are connected to the Internet. Recently, we
added an LCD projector to our inventory to improve meeting functionality – the results have been impressive. What are our opportunities for
improving our communications in 2004? Each of you has some ideas – please share them with club officers.
So, on this cold, snowy Sunday morning in mid December 2003…please keep the fires burning. Our hobby and our Delmarva Star Gazers are alive and well. We have a wonderful organization that continues to amaze me in talent, camaraderie, and continually improving results. 2004 will be much better than
2003. See you at the Church or Tuckahoe. Stay warm and safe. Keep your Naglers dry. Don…
Sun and Moon Data for January 2004 Tuckahoe MD
38.98°N 75.93°W 5hrW Standard Time Astronomical Twilight
Date Twi. Rise Transit Set Twi. Rise Transit Set %
1/1/2004 5:47a 7:23a 12:07p 4:52p 6:28p 12:58p 7:50p 1:53a 71
1/2/2004 5:47a 7:23a 12:08p 4:53p 6:28p 1:23p 8:33p 2:53a 79
1/3/2004 5:47a 7:23a 12:08p 4:53p 6:29p 1:52p 9:19p 3:53a 86
1/4/2004 5:47a 7:23a 12:09p 4:54p 6:30p 2:27p 10:07p 4:54a 92
1/5/2004 5:48a 7:23a 12:09p 4:55p 6:31p 3:08p 10:57p 5:54a 96
1/6/2004 5:48a 7:23a 12:09p 4:56p 6:31p 3:56p 11:49p 6:50a 99
1/7/2004 5:48a 7:23a 12:10p 4:57p 6:32p 4:51p ***** 7:42a 100
1/8/2004 5:48a 7:23a 12:10p 4:58p 6:33p 5:52p 12:42a 8:27a 99
1/9/2004 5:48a 7:23a 12:11p 4:59p 6:34p 6:56p 1:33a 9:05a 96
1/10/2004 5:48a 7:23a 12:11p 5:00p 6:35p 8:02p 2:22a 9:38a 91
1/11/2004 5:48a 7:22a 12:12p 5:01p 6:36p 9:08p 3:10a 10:07a 84
1/12/2004 5:48a 7:22a 12:12p 5:02p 6:37p 10:13p 3:56a 10:33a 76
1/13/2004 5:47a 7:22a 12:12p 5:03p 6:37p 11:20p 4:41a 10:58a 66
1/14/2004 5:47a 7:22a 12:13p 5:04p 6:38p ***** 5:26a 11:23a 55
1/15/2004 5:47a 7:21a 12:13p 5:05p 6:39p 12:28a 6:14a 11:49a 44
1/16/2004 5:47a 7:21a 12:13p 5:06p 6:40p 1:40a 7:04a 12:19p 33
1/17/2004 5:47a 7:20a 12:14p 5:07p 6:41p 2:54a 7:58a 12:55p 23
1/18/2004 5:46a 7:20a 12:14p 5:08p 6:42p 4:10a 8:57a 1:40p 14
1/19/2004 5:46a 7:20a 12:14p 5:09p 6:43p 5:25a 10:01a 2:35p 7
1/20/2004 5:46a 7:19a 12:15p 5:11p 6:44p 6:33a 11:06a 3:41p 2
1/21/2004 5:45a 7:19a 12:15p 5:12p 6:45p 7:30a 12:10p 4:54p 0
1/22/2004 5:45a 7:18a 12:15p 5:13p 6:46p 8:17a 1:10p 6:09p 1
1/23/2004 5:44a 7:17a 12:15p 5:14p 6:47p 8:54a 2:04p 7:23p 5
1/24/2004 5:44a 7:17a 12:16p 5:15p 6:48p 9:24a 2:54p 8:32p 10
1/25/2004 5:44a 7:16a 12:16p 5:16p 6:49p 9:50a 3:39p 9:38p 18
1/26/2004 5:43a 7:15a 12:16p 5:17p 6:50p 10:14a 4:22p 10:41p 26
1/27/2004 5:42a 7:15a 12:16p 5:19p 6:51p 10:36a 5:04p 11:42p 35
1/28/2004 5:42a 7:14a 12:17p 5:20p 6:52p 10:59a 5:46p ***** 45
1/29/2004 5:41a 7:13a 12:17p 5:21p 6:53p 11:24a 6:29p 12:43a 54
1/30/2004 5:41a 7:12a 12:17p 5:22p 6:54p 11:52a 7:13p 1:43a 64
1/31/2004 5:40a 7:12a 12:17p 5:23p 6:55p 12:24p 8:01p 2:44a 72