In the run-up to Christmas, the famous nativity story will be re-told in hundreds of schools across the country.
Each year the age-old adage tells us how the star of Bethlehem, or the Christmas Star, guided the wise men to the stable where the Son of God had been born.
But now, Dr Paul Roche, senior lecturer in astronomy at the University of Glamorgan, is examining whether one of the most famous stars of all time actually existed at all.
Dr Roche, who is also the director of the Faulkes Telescope Project, said: “For centuries, people have sought an explanation for this mysterious guiding star. From a scientific point of view, a number of potential candidate events have been suggested as contenders for the star of Bethlehem – although few of them actually involve a star!
“In order to try and examine what celestial event might have been considered of such great importance to astrologers at the time, we first need to establish the timescale during which the biblical events in Matthew and Luke may have occurred. This is where the problems begin, as pinning down even the year of Jesus’ birth a tricky issue. Most biblical scholars generally agree that sometime around the year 6BC is most likely, but estimates range from between 8BC and 1BC.
“So we are looking for a significant event, initially visible in the skies east of Judea, around this time. Over the years, people have suggested lunar eclipses and comets as potential explanations, but none of these really satisfy the criteria that would be considered so important by astrologers, or fit with the descriptions of the star in Matthew.
“We will probably never know exactly what it was that the magi saw in the sky – indeed we cannot even say for sure whether all of the events in some of the Gospels took place at all, or if they did, when they might have happened.
“But the evidence from modern astronomy, and our understanding of ancient astrology, suggests that planetary alignments involving Jupiter are currently the most likely candidates for the Christmas star – assuming it was not just an extra flourish added to Matthew’s nativity story at a later date!”
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