Many have wondered about the mystery surrounding the Star of Bethlehem and Grant Matthews, professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology in the Department of Physics in the University of Notre Dame's College of Science, has some insights into the phenomenon, suggesting "it may not have been a star at all."
He notes, "Astronomers, historians and theologians have pondered the question of the 'Christmas Star' for many years...Where and when did it appear? What did it look like? Of the billions of stars out there, which among them shone bright on that day so long ago? Modern astrophysics is how we attempt to explain one of history's greatest astronomical events."
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For his research, which Matthews plans to publish in a book, he went through a number of historical, astronomical, and biblical records to better understand "the event that led the Magi — Zoroastrian priests of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia" and focused on a very rare alignment of planets that took place in 6 B.C.
According to a press release by the university, "During this alignment, the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn were all in Aries, while Venus was next door in Pisces, and Mercury and Mars were on the other side in Taurus. At the time, Aries was also the location of the vernal equinox. The presence of Jupiter and the moon signified the birth of a ruler with a special destiny. Saturn was a symbol of the giving of life, as was the presence of Aries in the vernal equinox – also marking the start of spring."
Matthews says, "The Magi would have seen this in the east and recognized that it symbolized a regal birth in Judea."
To emphasize how rare this event was, Matthews estimates it'll be another 16,000 years before a similar alignment can be witnessed again.