Astronomers love a good mystery. At this time of year there’s no better one than the Star of Bethlehem. “It’s pretty fascinating,” says Kevin Schindler, outreach manager for Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.
“There’s no agreement on what the Star of Bethlehem may have been. It’s kind of like a detective story.”
The star and its origins are the subject of Holiday Skies, a star-gazing program this weekend at Lowell Observatory.
“It’s sort of a general introduction to what is up in the night sky, but it’s a little more than that,” says Schindler. “We also go into the mythology of these stars and constellations and focus on the Star of Bethlehem.”
In the Bible, the Star of Bethlehem guided the Magi to the baby Jesus and his family. Christians have long considered the star a sign from God marking Jesus’ birth.
To solve this mystery astronomers have turned to historical records to identify the star’s origins, sometimes crossreferencing Christian records with those of the Chinese or other non-Christian cultures.
In the early days Haley’s Comet was considered a candidate but quickly discounted. Other theories speculate that ancient sky watchers might have seen an exploding star, a supernova or a conjunction (this is when two or three planets appear close together for a brief period of time). “Visitors will learn some religious history and hear stories you wouldn’t expect to hear in an observatory,” says Schindler.
But the mythology is put into a scientific context, and that may be controversial for some visitors. “We’re certainly not here to argue with anybody or get into a fight over interpretations,” says Schindler. “Scientific evidence is what we are presenting.”