PDA

View Full Version : Ep. 120: The Christmas Star



Fraser
2008-Dec-25, 01:20 AM
With Christmas just around the corner, we thought we'd investigate a mystery that has puzzled historians for hundreds of years. In the bible, the birth of Jesus was announced by a bright star in the sky that led the three wise men to his birthplace. What are some possible astronomical objects that might look like such a bright star in the sky? And were there any unusual events that happened at that time?http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/astronomycast/~4/6bm-Yq6naMs

More... (http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/astronomycast/~3/6bm-Yq6naMs/)

matthewota
2008-Dec-25, 05:28 AM
Every Year astronomers both amateur and professional get plastered with questions about the origin of the Star of Bethlehem. After a lifetime of this, I just shrug and throw my hands up. I can explain the Tanabata legend better because I know it is just a legend....and the Christmas star is a just legend, too. I learned a long time ago not to mix religion and science.

NHR+
2008-Dec-26, 09:34 PM
I learned a long time ago not to mix religion and science.

Yeah, that's probably a good idea. I'm not a believer myself either...

But. With this "for we have seen his star in the east" -thingy...
I've understood it just means they saw it while THEY (the magi) were in the east, NOT the star. I don't have the text in the original language, and even if I did, that wouldn't help much, for I probably wouldn't be able to understand it anyhow... :lol:

The magi were more like astrologers than astronomers, by today's standards anyway, so it's not very likely that the Star of Bethlehem was anything very noticable for "the man on the street" of the day.

And really, who cares? Like you said, it's just another legend, written like 100 or more years after whatever really happened...

PooprScooper
2008-Dec-26, 10:21 PM
I absolutely LOVE Astronomycast, but please never read scripture again. It made me sick to my stomach listening to that part. I'm really sorry.

George
2008-Dec-27, 07:00 AM
I enjoyed the fact you both jumped in and gave opinions based on your knowledge. That is what science can contribute to philosophy, religion, or any subjective view that involves an objective claim within such views. The claim in Matthew was of an observed "star", thus an astronomer would be an appropriate person to make comment.

As far as the star seen in the East (verses 2 & 9 of Chapter 2), it seems likely to me that the writter was speaking of the location of the observers and not the location of the star. Wise men (magi) would be smart enough to know that stars do not stay in any region of the sky. The exception would be if they could only see it just before daylight and it was found in the east. I prefer the former view as it is also a more anthropomorphic approach, which was popular then, I think.

For those, however, who enjoy the latter view of the "star" actually being in the eastern sky, there was one celestial event worth mentioning. From Baghdad, the pre-dawn sky from April 24th to May 5th (6BC) would have presented Venus as a messenger as it traveled within 45 arcmin from Saturn in Aries to within 34 arcmin of Jupiter, also in Aries. One week later, the Moon would pass within 6 arcmin of Jupiter at 6 am. Also, a near syzygy of Saturn-Jupiter-Venus would be seen at this moment with the Moon grazing Jupiter, too.

Then, both Saturn and Jupiter retrograde. Saturn begins its retrograde July 22nd at the lower region of Aries, and Jupiter retrogrades back to Aries beginning on Aug. 25th. Both retrogrades end in December. This would have been seen throughout the night. There were no planetary easterly risings at sunset except these two planets during their retrogrades.

5 BC offers little on the eastern pre-dawn horizon.

Aries the Ram is another constellation that is associated with Israel.

In lieu of these, I prefer the idea of a brief nova or flashing star (eg V838 Mon) in Aries or other constellation these wise men would have associated with Israel. This would explain the part of the story where the wise men thought the bright star seen after they got directions in Jerusalem was the same object they had seen earlier. Yet, the latter object could not have been a celestial object as we know today as it directed them to a specific location, which we know celestial can not do, but they wouldn't have known this like we do today. The later light is a religious view and, assuming it really happened, would be outside the purview of science, IMO.

Perhaps even a supernova would not be beyond a possibility for the first light. OB associations are massive in cloud structure and dynamics. Some supernova are invisible to the naked eye even though they are relatively close to us due to these thick obscuring clouds. Perhaps a relatively dim sn -- anyone not like a nice oxymoron? :) -- was seen then quickly obscured by subsequent cloud movements blocking the light thereafter.

This is all speculation, but interesting. :)

wsuriano
2008-Dec-31, 10:54 PM
Your show on the Christmas Star makes a couple fundamental mistakes. First, the death of Herrod which you think occurred in 4BC is probably wrong. The death of Herrod is largely based on the writings of the historian Josephus. There was an error in manuscripts beginning in 1544. Every single manuscript prior to 1544 supports the inference that Herrod died in 1BC. See Ernest Martin, The Star that Astonished the World (2ed ASK Publications 1996). The coin evidence to which you refer is not persuasive. Thus, you cannot say that Herrod was dead when Jupiter was in Leo. That was precisely the sort of event that the Magi would have recognized as being significant from the standpoint of Jewish prophecy given the association of Jupiter with kings, Leo being associated with Israel and Jupiter's close encounter with Regulus, also associated with kings. The best description of the night skies that give rise to the Star of Bethlehem is bethlehemstar.net. The full implications are apparent when one looks at the sky in the proper time frame - 2 to 3 BC, rather than 4BC or earlier. The lineup of the stars, planets and moon at that time is not a legend, it is a fact and supports the Biblical account (including the retrograde motion of Jupiter), independent of whether you are a believer.

Second, there seemed to be some confusion about the star being in the east when the Magi were already in the east. In Greek (the language of the New Testament) the star was said to be "en anatole." This means the Magi saw the star rising in the east.

In any event, you should run your planetary software for yourself for 3 and 2BC noting the relationship between Jupiter, Regulus and later Venus and then compare what you see to the Biblical account. Note that there are two events separated by time. The first leads the Magi to Herrod and the second leads the Magi to the baby Jesus sometime after his birth. It's actually quite compelling, even for an atheist.

George
2009-Jan-01, 02:29 AM
The lineup of the stars, planets and moon at that time is not a legend, it is a fact and supports the Biblical account (including the retrograde motion of Jupiter), independent of whether you are a believer. What does the Bible say about these planets at that time?

I'm no historian, but I would think there would be collabariting evidence for a 4BC death of Herod given the dates of his replacement by Augustus, I assume.
1) Herod Archelaus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Archelaus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Archelaus). Ethnarch over Judea and Saria.
2) Herod Antipas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Antipas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Antipas) Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea.
3) Herod Philip II http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Philip_II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Philip_II) Tetrarch of Batanaea (NE of Lake Galilee)

Also, apparently, Josephus noted an eclipse in the year of Herod's death. There were two Lunar eclipses (only one seen from Jerusalem) in 4 BC: March 13th (2:30 am) and Sept. 5th (1:10 pm and 57 deg. below the horizon).

There were two Lunar eclipses in 2 BC, but both were below the Jerusalem horizon.


Second, there seemed to be some confusion about the star being in the east when the Magi were already in the east. In Greek (the language of the New Testament) the star was said to be "en anatole." This means the Magi saw the star rising in the east. That is one of three meanings. It can mean a rising light, dawn, or east. However, notice verse 11 ... "That many shall come from the east [anatole] and west [dusme], and shall sit down with Abraham...". East, I think, is the most likely choice of the three, in all the verses of Matthew.

I suspect that the reference to the East had to do with the observers' point of view in that they saw this light while they were "in the East".


... the second leads the Magi to the baby Jesus sometime after his birth. It's actually quite compelling, even for an atheist. How does a Venus and Regulus conjunction, assuming there is one, send them to a specific street address? It isn't compelling to me, and I'm Christian.

We can only speculate on the light that was written about two thousand years ago, but it is interesting and it could easily have been astronomical (at least the light that got them to Jerusalem).

wsuriano
2009-Jan-01, 02:54 AM
Just look at the sources in my previous posting. Both explain things in far greater depth than I can do on a blog posting. The conjunction is not Venus and Regulus, but Venus and Jupiter. Running you software through 3 and 2 BC will make it quite plain.

George
2009-Jan-01, 11:05 PM
Just look at the sources in my previous posting. Both explain things in far greater depth than I can do on a blog posting. Well, I looked at bethlehemstar.net and found this..


On this scale of time, Jupiter did stop. On December 25 of 2 BC as it entered retrograde, Jupiter reached full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem."
Jupiter's retrograde was not Dec. 25th, but on Dec. 28th. The difference is not that noticeable, but why not state the more factual account?

Much worse, however, is to claim that Jupiter was over a certain town at that time. That's nonsense! What town will Jupiter's June 16, 2009 beginning retrograde be stopping over?

[Added: Well, if Jupiter is our guiding star, and we look up a 5 am on Dec. 25th, we would see Jupiter in Virgo and it would be SSW of our position, which is in the direction of Bethlehem. Shortly before or after, of course, Jupiter would be further east or west. How would we know what time to look? I prefer a divine light upon the appropriate house over a planet overhead.]


The conjunction is not Venus and Regulus, but Venus and Jupiter. Running you software through 3 and 2 BC will make it quite plain.
Here is what I have found in recent weeks of playing with this. Maybe it will help. I am open to corrections and additions.




Baghdad region
6 BC:
Jan. 1: Jupiter & Saturn close in Pisces
Jan. 23: Saturn equidistant between Jupiter and Moon in Pisces (pointing to Aries?)
Feb. 20: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and new Moon all within about 3 deg. radius
In Pisces at 7pm on western horizon
Mar. 4: Jupiter and Mars conjunction at sunset
Horizontal alignment with Saturn directly below
Mar. 19: Lunar occulation of Saturn (not visible, too close to Sun and below horizon)
Apr. 16: Lunar occulation of Saturn, 12:50 pm in Pisces. (not visible, daytime)
Apr. 17: Lunar occulation of Jupiter, about 12:45 pm (daytime)
Apr. 18: Annular Solar eclipse (not visible from Middle East)
Apr. 24: Saturn and Venus only 42 arcmin separation in Pisces
Seen only briefly around 4:30 am on horizon (4 deg alt.)
May 8: Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus (34 arcmin in Aries).
Visible only on horizon from 4 to 5:30 am
May 13: Lunar occulation of Saturn in Pisces (not visible from Middle East)
11 pm but 46 deg below horizon. Venus and Jupiter reasonably close by.
May 15: Lunar conjunction of Jupiter in Aries (< 6 arcminutes)
Visible about one and one-half hours before conjunction.
Venus-Jupiter-Moon-Saturn aligned (Aries region)
May 16: Venus and very thin crescent Moon proximity (3 deg) in Taurus
Seen only briefly about 4:30 am
Jul. 2: Venus & Mars conjunction at dusk
Jul. 10: Mercury & Venus conjunction at dusk (Mars nearby)
Jul. 22: Saturn begins retrograde between Cetus and Aries
Aug. 22: Jupiter begins retrograde back toward Aries
Sep. 2: Mars visible within 50 arcminutes of Regulus at 4:30am in Leo
Sep 14: Lunar occulation of Venus (far below horizon, not visible)
Nov. 7: Mars about 2 deg. from Moon when it rises in East (2 am in Virgo)

5 BC: [Most activity too close to Sun]
Mar. 11: Lunar conjunction of Venus with Jupiter and Pleiades very close
Region between Taurus and Aries asterisms.
Actual conjunction only 1 arcmin separation but well below horizon
Mar. 23: Total Lunar eclipse, 9:30 pm, 38 deg. alt., in Virgo
Sep. 15: Total Lunar eclipse, 11:20 pm, 50 deg. alt., in Pisces

4BC: [Most activity too close to Sun]
Jan. 30: Lunar conjunction with Mars in Pisces
30 arcminutes at 3pm, 1 deg. at 6 pm.
Mar. 6 & 7: Conjuction of Saturn and Mars (~ 2 deg)
Seen near western horizon around 7:30 pm, in Aries
Mar 13: Lunar eclipse (1/3 partial umbral passage), 3:30 am in Virgo (33 deg alt.)
May 9: Conjunction of Saturn and Mercury, dawn, in Taurus
May 17: Conjunction of Mars and Venus at dusk near horizon (Jupiter nearby)
May 23: Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter at dusk near horizon in Gemini
Sep 5: Lunar eclipse (2/3 umbral passage), but at 2:15 pm and well below horizon

3BC
Apr. 2: Saturn, Venus, Mars grouping in Taurus
Jun 13: Saturn and Venus conjunction, seen rising at 3 am in Taurus
Aug 12: Jupiter and Venus close conjuction, seen rising at 5 am in Leo
Sep 5: Lunar occulation of Jupiter near Regulus in Leo
Not visible until 1 deg. separation when rising at 3 am.
Sep 14: Jupiter rises with Regulus in Leo
About 15 arcmin. Separation at 4 am, 24 deg. alt.
Oct. 3: Jupiter, Regulus, and crescent Moon within 3 deg. radius of Regulus (Leo)
Oct. 31: Close conjunction of Moon and Jupiter in Leo at 4 am,
About 30 min. separation at 60 deg. alt.

2 BC
Jan 20: Lunar eclipse below horizon in daytime (2 pm)
Mar 25: Saturn and Mars conjunction setting in Taurus (8:30 pm), Venus nearby
Apr 3: Saturn, Venus, Mars grouping (3 deg. radius from Venus) at setting
Apr 12: Moon, Regulus, Jupiter alignment
May 7: Crescent Moon close conjunction (2 arcminutes) of Venus in Gemini
But 20 deg. below horizon
May 10: Moon, Regulus, Jupiter alignment seen at midnight at setting
Jun 17: Venus occulation of Jupiter (8 arcsec separation), 9:18pm in Leo
Jul 17: Lunar eclipse below horizon in daytime (8:30 am)
Oct 14: Jupiter and Venus conjunction rising at 3 am in Virgo
Nearby is Mars close to Spica
Oct 24: Jupiter, Venus, Spica, crescent Moon grouping in Virgo (5 am)
Dec 8: Venus and Mars conjunction rising at 4 am in Libra

wsuriano
2009-Jan-02, 12:52 AM
The conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, really the occultation, should be looked at from Jerusalem, not Baghdad. Similarly, when Jupiter stopped in its retrograde motion has to be looked at from Jerusalem. I understand the issue of when do you look.

George
2009-Jan-02, 01:32 AM
The conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, really the occultation, ... That's a fair statement since the human eye's resolution is about 1 arcminute and the separation is much less ( ~ 8 arcseconds).


... should be looked at from Jerusalem, not Baghdad. Similarly, when Jupiter stopped in its retrograde motion has to be looked at from Jerusalem. I understand the issue of when do you look. No. Objects that are millions of miles from us do not exhibit much parallax, especially when we are using two relatively close places on Earth. There would be some differences when the Moon is involved due to its proximity to us.

[Added: The additional brightness by having Jupiter adjacent to Venus would only make the two appear about 10% brighter than Venus alone. Since the two are only about 25 deg. from the horizon (Jerusalem), Venus would look less bright than without Jupiter's partnering if Venus were much higher in the sky. The atmosphere attenuates the brightness.]

wsuriano
2009-Jan-02, 06:48 AM
I understand that there wouldn't be much, if any, difference between Baghdad and Jerusalem. I'm just saying that the Biblical account requires that you look at what could be seen from Jerusalem. I haven't run things to compare the two, but what you are saying makes sense.

George
2009-Jan-02, 06:24 PM
I understand that there wouldn't be much, if any, difference between Baghdad and Jerusalem. I'm just saying that the Biblical account requires that you look at what could be seen from Jerusalem. Yes, and most of the celestial events were from Jerusalem. I later switched to Baghdad in hopes to capture what the wise men may have seen from the region that I suspect they were from, ie. "in the east". There is also a time difference between Jerusalem and the Baghdad region of between 1/2 to 1 hour (siderial).

George
2009-Jan-03, 09:59 PM
It is worth mentioning, too, that there was a very rare tripple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces in 7 BC. An astronomer writes of this here (http://www.susqu.edu/news/releases/01-02/star.htm).