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...
- Change your Viewing Location to Bethlehem, West Bank.
- Set the date in Starry Night to August 12, 3 B.C. (not A.D.)
- Set the time to 4:30 a.m. (make sure Daylight Savings Time is OFF)
- Turn on the constellation stick figures
- Face East
- You should see a bright star just above the horizon and slightly to the left in the constellation of Leo.
- 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!
- Zoom in using the zoom buttons. Note how close the two planets were!
- 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)
Have you used Starry Night to recreate any interesting historical moments?