'Star of Bethlehem': Miracle or Science?

By Ma. Cristina Arayata

December 11, 2020, 7:19 pm

<p>Night sky (<em>PNA file photo</em>) </p>

Night sky (PNA file photo

MANILA – The Bible says the three wise men followed a star in order to find where Jesus was born. People refer to that star as the "Christmas Star" or the "Star of Bethlehem". Did that star come out of the blue to guide the "Magi"? Or did Jesus' birth coincide with a celestial phenomenon?

"This is still debatable. Christians believe it was a miracle, a sign. Theologians believe it was a prophecy and that there is no explanation for the event. However, astronomers globally are trying to correlate this to celestial phenomenon, particularly the conjunction of planets," astronomer Mario Raymundo told the Philippine News Agency in an interview Friday.

He said that planet conjunction actually happens yearly. On December 21, 2020, however, planets Jupiter and Saturn would align so closely with each other, with only .1 of a degree difference or distance, he said.

"We call 'alignment' as 'conjunction'. This would not be the first time that Jupiter and Saturn would align. (The things is,) these planets had a really close distance from each other 800 years ago. It is only on Dec. 21, 2020 that they would be too close from each other again," Raymundo explained.

Raymundo, who works at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said astronomers use data that allows them to compute when celestial events, eclipse, would take place. This data also enables them to compute and analyze when past celestial events have occurred, even when it happened in the BC (Before Christ) era.

On December 21, he said, people all over the world may notice what seemed to be two stars joined together, making them brighter. "Those would look like the stars, but those are two planets -- Jupiter and Saturn," Raymundo remarked.

People may notice the brightness of these "stars" even as early as tonight (Dec. 11). The peak, he said, would be on Dec. 21 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (Philippine Standard Time).

This celestial event has no effect on weather, for instance, he clarified.

Because astronomers are correlating the "Christmas Star" to planet conjunction, Raymundo said there was a "grand conjunction" that happened in 1 BC, and a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which, according to him, happened on August 28, 6 BC.

"The great conjunction in 1 BC involved planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, and the moon. But this took place before 5 a.m. Thus, it seems impossible that this was the one that the 'magi' followed, since the sun would rise about 20 minutes after," he said.

He continued that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn during 6 BC lasted from night until before 6 a.m. "Therefore, this is the conjunction that would probably the closest to what the 'magi' have followed, if in case there is really a scientific explanation for that."

Raymundo emphasized that there is no study yet regarding this. "There is no scientific data regarding this, and this is still debatable," he reiterated.

"In my opinion, if ever there is really a scientific explanation behind this, then we could compare it to the conjunction that happened in 6 BC," he pointed out.

He added that the "Christmas Star" is also not related to the winter solstice.

"The winter solstice is a season that happens around Dec. 21-22. It is when the earth is closest to the sun, and we consider this 'the longest night and the shortest day'. This has no relation to the conjunction of planets," Raymundo said. (PNA