After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1–2)
Christmas is such a special time of the year. Families put effort into getting the house ready for the season. One of the most spectacular decorations is the bright star on top of the Christmas tree. Some people believe that the “star of Bethlehem” is only a symbol to give more brightness to the occasion. They forget that, historically, royal births and other events have always been associated with special stars. Of course, most traditional Christians just accept that God decided to put a huge star in the sky of Bethlehem when Jesus was born, simply because he is God and he can do that if he wants to.
Not long ago, I had the joy of watching the documentary The Star of Bethlehem by Frederick Larson.
It is a masterpiece. The producer has been able to explain the mystery of the star of Bethlehem with very sound astronomical information.
Larson stimulated my interest in this feature of Jesus’ birth as an historical astronomical event. I have to acknowledge that I had no idea that astronomy is such a reliable and accurate science based on mathematical calculations that are so precise that they are not only capable of predicting the position of the planets and stars in the future, but equally capable of looking at astronomical activity at any particular moment in the history of humanity. The search for the star mentioned in Matthew is nothing new.
Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), one of the greatest mathematicians of all times, figured out that planets travel in elliptical orbits and he was then able to predict the planetary movements. Kepler established the laws of planetary motion that are used today by modern astronomers and space agencies such as NASA.
This great scientist was also a Christian and he tried to find the star of Matthew. He could not find the star because he used the wrong date in his calculations. Obviously, without computer software, Kepler only had one shot to find the star.
Nowadays, astronomy software can easily produce a map of the sky of the past or the future.
Using the “Starry Night” software, we can look at the sky over Bethlehem between the years 3 and 2 BC. Let us see what the Magi were going after.
The star of Bethlehem was the conjunction between Jupiter and the star Regulus. This is a map of the sky of Bethlehem in September, 3 BC, as shown by the astronomy software Starry Night.
So the star described by Matthew is real after all; the mysterious star is the planet Jupiter as viewed in conjunction with the star Regulus. Apparently a very dynamic conjunction occurred between these two and it caught the attention of those ancient astronomers called the Magi.