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Title: The Star of Bethlehem is Not the Nova DO Aquilae (Nor Any Other Nova, Supernova, or Comet)
Author: Bradley E. Schaefer

The Star of Bethlehem is only known from a few verses in the Gospel of Matthew, with the Star inspiring and leading the Magi (i.e., Persian astrologers) to Jerusalem and ultimately worshipping the young Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. In the last four centuries, astronomers have put forth over a dozen greatly different naturalistic explanations, all involving astronomical events, often a bright nova, supernova, or comet. This paper will evaluate one prominent recent proposal, that the Star was a 'recurrent nova' now catalogued as DO Aquilae, and provide three refutations. In particular, (1) DO Aql is certainly not a recurrent nova, but rather an ordinary nova with a recurrence time scale of over a million years, (2) in its 1925 eruption, DO Aql certainly never got brighter than 8.5 mag, and the physics of the system proves that it could never get to the required luminosity of a supernova, and (3) the Magi were astrologers who had no recognition or interpretation for novae (or supernovae or comets) so any such event is completely irrelevant and meaningless to them.

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Star of Bethlehem: The astronomical explanations

It might seem churlish to dissect such an enduring image of Christmas as the star of Bethlehem, but a quiet astronomical debate has been bubbling away for decades. Could some real cosmic event have drawn "three wise men" on a journey to find a newborn king?
This debate requires one very big assumption - that the story of the star and the journey is true.
Prof David Hughes, an astronomer from the University of Sheffield, first published a review of the theories on the famous star in the 1970s.

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On September 14, 3 B.C. Jupiter came very near Regulus

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What many believe was a star that led the three wise men to the baby Jesus could have instead been a conjunction of planets.
That was a point left to be pondered Thursday evening after a presentation by University of North Alabama Planetarium Director Mel Blake during the annual Star of Bethlehem show.
The show featured a video that interacted with a simulation of the December sky in the university's planetarium.

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In 3-2 BC, there was a series of seven conjunctions, including three between Jupiter and Regulus and a strikingly close conjunction between Jupiter and Venus near Regulus on June 17, 2 BC. "The fusion of two planets would have been a rare and awe-inspiring event", according to Roger Sinnott. This event however occurred after the generally accepted date of 4 BC for the death of Herod. Since the conjunction would have been seen in the west at sunset it could not have led the magi south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It also does not fit with an event seen at rising that might have started them on the journey.
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Ed ~ It should be noted that the probable true location of 'Bethlehem' was to the north of Jerusalem.



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In 1614, German astronomer Johannes Kepler determined that a series of three conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn occurred in the year 7 BC. Although conjunctions were important in astrology, Kepler was not thinking in astrological terms. He argued (incorrectly) that a planetary conjunction could create a nova, which he linked to the Star of Bethlehem. Modern calculations show that there was a gap of nearly a degree between the planets, so these conjunctions were not visually impressive. An ancient almanac has been found in Babylon which covers the events of this period, but does not indicate that the conjunctions were of any special interest. Dr. Karlis Kaufmanis argued that this was an astronomical event where Jupiter and Saturn were in a triple conjunction in the constellation Pisces.
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Despite their beauty, however, comets have been seen as the bearers of bad tidings since time immemorial, which is why many have said that such a dangerous ambassador could not have been chosen to signal the birth of the savior Jesus.
To cite an example from antiquity, the appearance of Halley's Comet over Rome in 12 B.C. was largely held responsible for the death of the statesman and general Agrippa.

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According to Chinese records, a "guest star" (ke xing), 8-chi-long appeared in Qiannu the 9th lunar mansion) appeared in the constellation Aquilla around July 5 B.C.
(3 chi = approx 1 meter)

Emperor Ming of Han, 9th year of the Yongping reign period, 1st month, day wushen [20 February 66]. A guest star [ke xing] 8 chi long appeared in Qiannu [9th lunar mansion]. It passed through Jianxing and reached the south of Fang [4th LM], where it was extinguished. It was visible for up to 50 days.
D.K. Yeomans states that the comet sighting recorded in Ho Peng Yoke on January 31 of that same year is a reference to the same comet seen by Emperor Ming (what we believe to be Halley's comet).

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There's no sure explanation for the Star of Bethlehem

The Backyard Astronomer always gets numerous questions relating to the Star of Bethlehem and a reliable scientific explanation of the event. With modern technology, we should be able to re-create the skies to any specific date and see exactly what was being observed in the sky at that time. Unfortunately, it is not that easy as there is very little verifiable information to give us an astronomical explanation with a high degree of certainty. The star is only mentioned in the Bible once (St. Matthew) and there are no collaborating observations from other countries considered reliable.
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The Star of Bethlehem Hagalilit

Between Sept. 3 B.C. and May 2 B.C. there were three conjunctions (on Sept. 14, 3 B.C., Feb. 17, 2 B.C. and May 8, 2 B.C.) where Jupiter passed close to the star Regulus (the brightest star in the constellation Leo). This rare sequence of events would have looked very strange to those familiar with the night sky.
Thompson found that the gas giant passed Regulus in an easterly motion before appearing to reverse direction, passing the star again in a westerly direction. This change in direction is known as retrograde motion. Due to the near-circular orbits of Earth and Jupiter, as Earth has a faster orbital period than Jupiter, from our point of view we will appear to "overtake" the gas giant. The motion of Jupiter will therefore appear to change direction for several weeks before changing direction again continuing its easterly drift.
Interestingly, Indiana University researchers noted in 2003 that there was a spectacular conjunction between Jupiter and Venus a month after Thompson's time line. Both planets are thought to have overlapped in the night sky making them indistinguishable to the naked eye on June 17, 2 B.C..
Could Jupiter have led the Three Wise Men in the direction of Bethlehem after its bizarre change in direction, eventually culminating in a dazzling conjunction with Venus?

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Mark Thompson, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Astronomy Presenter on BBC's The One Show, has conducted research that he says can explain the story, told in the Gospel of Matthew, about the star leading the travellers to Bethlehem.
Using historical records and computer simulations that allow the position of the stars and planets to be charted back to around the time when Jesus is believed to have been born, Mr Thompson claims there was an unusual astronomical event.
He said that between September 3BC and May 2BC there were three "conjunctions" where the planet Jupiter and a star called Regulus passed close to each other in the night sky.

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