"Star" of Bethlehem

One of the nicest things about Starry Night is that it can serve as a bridge to people who aren't quite as interested in astronomy as I am. This holiday season I decided that I wanted to show my "normal" friends and family what Starry Night could tell them about Christmas.

The Christmas Star, or "Star of Bethlehem", reportedly acted as a beacon for the Three Wise Men to follow from the Middle East to Bethlehem and Jesus' birth.

I've heard many explanations over the years: a comet, a supernova, meteors, a supernatural event. Now, I have access to the perfect simulation tool.

Here's what I did...

From what I could learn, most astronomers and Biblical scholars believe that the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem most likely occurred sometime between the years 7 and 2 BC. Was there anything unusual in the sky that might have caught the attention of the wise men?

Just so happened that a very close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m. on August 12, 3 BC. The two planets came together in the constellation of Leo. To the early Israelites, Leo was a constellation of great astrological significance and considered a sacred part of the sky. The planets came so close together that most people saw it as one object – a very striking sight.

With this information, I used Starry Night to go back in time and recreate the August 12, 3 B.C. event. You can do it too...

  1. Change your Viewing Location to Bethlehem, West Bank.
  2. Set the date in Starry Night to August 12, 3 B.C. (not A.D.)
  3. Set the time to 4:30 a.m. (make sure Daylight Savings Time is OFF)
  4. Turn on the constellation stick figures
  5. Face East
  6. You should see a bright star just above the horizon and slightly to the left in the constellation of Leo.
  7. Turn on the planet labels. You should now see that the bright star is not a star at all but in fact two planets - Venus and Jupiter!
  8. Zoom in using the zoom buttons. Note how close the two planets were!
  9. If you want to save this view as an .SNF file – select Save from the File menu.

(If you have Starry Night version 7, search for "bethlehem" to find one or two pre-saved application favorites)

"Star" of Bethlehem in Starry Night Enthusiast 7

Have you used Starry Night to recreate any interesting historical moments?