Martin tries to shed light on the Christmas Star

December 17, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Astronomer Rodney Martin presented his "Christmas Star " program Saturday afternoon at Discovery Station in Downtown Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Astronomy and religious lore intersected Saturday as Rodney Martin dissected the story of the "Christmas Star."

What was the Star of Bethlehem? Who saw it? When?

Drawing upon theology and forensic investigation, Martin explored a possible explanation of the star during a program at Discovery Station in Hagerstown.

Martin talked about the Roman calendar and the nighttime sky before leading listeners back about 2,000 years.

The star was mentioned in the Bible in the book of Matthew, in the account of the three wise men who came to Jerusalem to see the newborn Jesus Christ.

The wise men, or magi, reported seeing a bright star in the sky, seemingly as a sign.

But, in ancient times, almost every light in the sky was described as a star.

Could it have been a meteor? A comet? A supernova? Probably not, Martin said.

To arrive at a more likely answer, he invoked the concept of "retrograde motion," an optical illusion that would make a planet look like it's briefly changing directions.

Planets and other celestial bodies can appear to closely line up in the sky, a phenomenon known as "conjunction."

Martin said there's evidence of a possible conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the Pisces constellation around 7 B.C. or 6 B.C., with Mars joining them. This could explain the Christmas Star.

Or, it might have been around 3 B.C. or 2 B.C., when Jupiter and Venus were in conjunction with the star Regulus in the Leo constellation.

Perhaps the star was supernatural, not astronomical?

"It's up to you to figure out the significance of the Christmas Star," Martin said.

The Herald-Mail Articles