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The free public astronomy night at the Southern Cayuga planetarium will feature "The Mystery of the Christmas Star," the astronomical story of the Star of Bethlehem, at 7:30 p.m. today.
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A common element in the Christmas story is how the Star of Bethlehem led the three kings or magi to the birthplace of Jesus. Astronomer and Drake University lecturer Herb Schwartz says his years of research shows that bright star actually did exist some two-thousand years ago for a very short time, but it wasnt really a star.
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Ed ~ another possibility is that the story is an adoption of a more ancient Mithrais type legend the may have arose hundreds of years before.

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In August of 3 B.C., "Jupiter seemed to approach so close to Venus that, without binoculars, they would have looked like a single star," according to a 2008 MSNBC report.
This heavenly occurrence followed a series of other unusual alignments of planets and stars in the constellation Leo, which was associated with the ancient Jews and royalty.

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It's likely that the Magi studied astrology, so the star's astrological aspects are probably at least as important as its astronomical explanation. Rutgers astronomer Michael Molnar has recently suggested that a double occultation of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries in 6BC could have astrologically signified the birth of a divine 'king of the Jews'.
Others of couse think that the writer of Matthew's gospel simply invented the star, perhaps to fulfil the Old Testament prophecy that 'A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel' (Numbers chapter 24, verse 17). More likely is that Matthew's star is an example of 'Midrash' - a Judaic tradition of religious writing in which non-factual elements can be used to bring out the religious meaning of the factual account. So whether or not there actually was a star is less important than the spiritual message Matthew is trying to convey.

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The Star of Bethlehem
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Jupiter underwent two occultations ("eclipses") by the Moon in Aries in 6 BC. Jupiter was the regal "star" that conferred kingships - a power that was amplified when Jupiter was in close conjunctions with the Moon. The second occultation on April 17 coincided precisely when Jupiter was "in the east," a condition mentioned twice in the biblical account about the Star of Bethlehem. In August of that year Jupiter became stationary and then "went before" through Aries where it became stationary again on December 19, 6 BC. This is when the regal planet "stood over." - a secondary royal portent also described in the Bible. In particular, there is confirmation from a Roman astrologer that the conditions of April 17, 6 BC were believed to herald the birth of a divine, immortal, and omnipotent person born under the sign of the Jews, which we now know was Aries the Ram
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The appearance of the Star of Bethlehem most likely occurred sometime between the years 7 and 2 BC.

The Magi visited king Herod sometime between 4 BC and 1 BC, just before he died.

Leading up to this, the Magi would have seen, and predicted, rare astronomical events.

 

On the evening of Feb. 25, 6 BC a rare triple conjunction or "great conjunction" of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, happened in the constellation of Pisces, the Fishes. Pisces, was astrologically associated with the land of Judea.
Jupiter and Saturn passed each other three times, between May and December in 7 BC. Jupiter appeared to pass one degree north of Saturn on May 29; practically the same on Sept. 30; then finally a third time on Dec. 5.

Jupiter and Saturn remained within three degrees of each other, from late April in 7 BC until early January, 6 BC.

To the early astronomers, Leo was a constellation of great astrological significance and associated with Kings.

 

The Star of Bethlehem : December 2001
What was the Star of Bethlehem? This month, Patrick is joined by David Hughes and Mark Kidger, who have made careful studies of the records. Can they give a convincing answer?

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A leading academic today weighs into the debate about the origins of the Star of Bethlehem, declaring a comet - not a conventional star - led the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus.
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, is the latest expert to champion the comet theory.
Although the beginning of the Christian Era is long believed to have been marked by the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem, debate has raged for centuries about what caused the landmark to appear in the skies.

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The Star of Bethlehem, which Christian lore maintains led the wise men to the birthplace of Jesus, is one of the most enduring and well-known Christmas legends. Almost as enduring among sky-watchers is the question of whether an ordinary (that is, non-miraculous) astronomical event could have fit the biblical description of the star.

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Star of Bethlehem
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The Star of Bethlehem is one of the best-known parts of the Christmas story, celebrated in the gospels as well as a constellation of holiday songs. Was it purely a divine sign, created miraculously to mark Jesus' birth? Can the phenomenon be linked to an actual astronomical event?
Astronomers can't answer the first question. However, they can turn the clock back on the night sky's appearance, to come up with some astronomical events that might have been interpreted as a "Star of Wonder" by the ancients.
The most likely candidate for the Christmas Star made its most dramatic appearance not on Dec. 25 in the year 1 A.D., but on June 17 in the year 2 B.C. What's more, that event was not the appearance of a single bright star, but a grand conjunction involving the brightest planets and one of the brightest stars in the sky.


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Christmas may be the day we celebrate the anniversary of Jesus's birth, but we've got the date wrong, according to an Australian astronomer.
It's not December 25 we should be celebrating, but June 17, says Dave Reneke.
He said a "beacon of light" would have been visible across the eastern dawn sky as Venus and Jupiter moved across the constellation of Leo on June 17, 2BC.

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