Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare.
Shield all your outside lights downward (or turn them off completely)
and enjoy the beautiful, starry night sky.
December 2006 night sky
THE CHRISTMAS STAR
Since the time of Christ, men have been trying to explain the appearance
of the Star of Bethlehem. To believers, it could be nothing but
a miracle from God; to others, it is a scientific and astronomical
Scriptures refer to a "star" that had attracted the
attention of wise men from the east, directing them to the land
of Jerusalem to honor a newborn king.
"Behold there came three wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen
his star in the east, and come to worship him..." —Matthew
Several ideas have been put forth to explain just what was actually
in the sky seen as the Star of Bethlehem. The biggest obstacle in
solving this puzzle of the Star of Bethlehem, astronomically, is
that no one really knows when the star appeared. Biblical scholars
tend to believe Christ was born somewhere between 7 B.C. and 1 B.C.
To look for an astronomical explanation for such a star, astronomers
need to sift through a myriad of astronomical events in a process
of elimination. So far, candidates have included meteors, novae,
comets, and even planets.
One idea can quickly be dismissed: bright meteors or fireballs.
Meteors and fireballs do not usually last more than a few seconds,
so this possibility has long been discounted.
One of the best possibilities would seem to be a nova of some
type. Stars that go nova suddenly brighten, often becoming visible
where no star had been noticed before. And a nova star could have
been bright enough to be seen during the day. While this remains
a possibility, no conclusive evidence has been found for such an
event in the time span of Jesus' birth. Records of such an event
have not been discovered, not even the astronomically observant
Chinese recorded any such sky event during the years in question.
And no remnants of a super nova have been found that could be dated
to the right time.
Comets are another popular explanation. They can be very bright
and can be visible for several months. Chinese astronomers did record
seeing a comet in 5 B.C. and then another in 4 B.C. But comets are
not a good candidate either. While the Chinese thought of comets
as broom stars, sweeping away the old and bringing in the new, comets
were regarded as evil omens in the Middle East. So, it is not very
likely that a comet would have been associated with the birth of
One plausible idea involves conjunctions between planets and a
star. Planets are bright and easy to find among the background of
stars. By simulating the positions of the planets between 7 and
2 B.C., several of notable events have been found. Also, we know
that astrology was very important during that time.
During 7 B.C., the planets Jupiter and Saturn had three close
encounters, called conjunctions. The closest, during December, 7
B.C., occurred when the planets were two full moon diameters apart
from each other. During the month of March in 7 B.C., there was
a heliacal rising of Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets rose about
the same time the sun did. This was an astrologically significant
event. Then, in September of that year, the planets rose acronychal;
that is, they rose in the east as the sun set in the west. Astrologically,
a heliacal rising was thought to signify birth, while the acronychal
rising was one of five principal positions the astrologers highly
Later, in 6 B.C., Mars joined Jupiter and Saturn for a triple
conjunction. Extra significance must be given to this event since
it occurred in the constellation Pisces. Pisces is the sign of the
traditional symbol of the Hebrews and Israel. Along with Pisces,
the presence of Saturn was a sign of the promised Messiah.
Furthermore, Jupiter was considered to be a symbol of royalty.
All these astrological events seem to point toward something special,
and the birth of the Messiah had been predicted.
In 3 B.C. an intriguing sequence lasting ten months had Jupiter
coming very close to Venus twice in the sky and to Regulus three
times. The most important of these were the three Jupiter-Regulus
conjunctions in the constellation Leo. Jupiter and Regulus both
meant "king" to the Hebrews, and Leo was a sign of the
tribe of Judah. To those watching, the king planet appeared to join
with the king star in the royal constellation of Leo. This happened
not just once but three times, as the Earth overtook Jupiter in
our orbits. In what is known as a “retrograde loop,”
Jupiter appeared to slow down, stop, and then move in the opposite
And, finally, in Matthew's account, the "star" appeared
to stop over Bethlehem. Simulations show that Jupiter would have
appeared to "stand still" for a total of 6 days, including
what would have been December 25 in 2 B.C.
This series of events seem to paint a convincing series of events
that may have been interpreted as the foretelling of a royal birth
and the stationary star over Jerusalem. The one flaw with this explanation
concerns King Herod. While no exact date is know for the king's
death, it is believed that he died prior to April, 4 B.C.
No matter what was actually observed in the sky some two thousand
years ago, it is certain that the dark skies of the day afforded
both the magi and the general populace a splendid view of the heavens.
My wish for the world of today is to rediscover the awe and respect
of our ancestors for the stars seen in totally dark skies. With
your help and cooperation, we can get close to that state in rural
THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury will be visible before sunrise, low in the east
the first half of the month, after its trip across the face of the
sun in November.
• Venus will remain in the glare of the sun much of the month,
but should start making an appearance on the western horizon the
last week of December.
• Mars is also emerging from a trip across the far side of
the sun. It will be rising in the east ahead of the sun.
• Look for Jupiter, also in the east, about two hours before
sunrise. It, too, is just emerging from the sun's glare.
• There will be a spectacular grouping of Mercury, Jupiter,
and Mars on the morning of December 9 in the predawn sky about 7:00
• The Geminid meteor shower may produce a nice display before
midnight on December 13.
• Saturn rises after 9 p.m. and will be up all night.
• The Moon is full on the December 4 and new on December 20.
If you have a question, comment, or suggestion
for Charlie, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.