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Did the Star of Bethlehem really exist?

What does science tell us about the star that guided the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem?

Did the Star of Bethlehem really exist?
For years, scientists have searched for an astronomical phenomenon around that time that might shed light on the true story of the birth of Jesus - Photo: Darek Delmanowicz/EFE
English 05/01/2019 18:57 Newsroom Mexico City Gerardo Herrera Corral Actualizada 15:27
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The Christmas Star that is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the story of the birth of Jesus has raised many questions among astronomers. What does science tell us about this symbol of faith?

When a star reaches the end of its life cycle, it explodes. If a star is big enough, the size of the explosion can reach gigantic proportions. Its remains usually constitute a fascinating celestial phenomenon.

The Star of Bethlehem, or what was left of it, could have actually been an explosion. According to the legend, it was the shiniest object in the night sky. For years, scientists have searched for an astronomical phenomenon around that time that might shed light on the true story of the birth of Jesus, which tells:

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:3, King James Bible).

Popular myths about the Three Wise Men

Astronomers have looked into historical records in search of a supernova explosion. However, until this day, no record of such phenomenon has been found. A supernova is an explosion that occurs after a very large star has run out of fuel. These stars are usually 10 to 20 times larger than the Sun, and produce such heavy chemical elements that the star collapses, causing an immense explosion. This colossal event leaves behind a neutron star so dense that it could be considered a gigantic nuclear core in itself.

At this point, merely a spoonful of a neutron star can weigh far more than the entire human population.

However, neutron stars are very small in size, with a radius of between 20 and 30 kilometers. In comparison, Mexico City is far larger than any of these astronomical objects, and yet, neutron stars weigh millions of times more than our entire planet. If the Sun could be compressed until it acquired the density of a neutron star, it would have the size of mount Everest.

Nevertheless, supernovas are infrequent. The flash, which can last for a few weeks or even months, has been observed very few times in the history of humanity. The most recent supernova that was observed –outside of professional circles- happened in 2016, within a spiral galaxy 86 million light years away from Earth.

Nowadays, scientist conduct systematic searches using observatories and sophisticated detection techniques, but throughout the history of humanity, only three supernovas have been identified. The best known case happened in the year 1054 of our age. The famous Crab Nebula is a result of said explosion.

The origin and meaning of the Three Kings Bread

The star of Bethlehem, however, doesn’t seem to have been caused by a phenomenon such as this. Other theories explore the possibility that it might have been a white dwarf, a planet, or even a comet, though they are hardly convincing.

Though it might not have been a supernova nor a white dwarf, its compelling nature might lead us to believe that the star which guided the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem was in fact Sirius, the shiniest astronomical object in the night sky.

Though it may not be apparent on first glance, Sirius is in fact a binary star, meaning that it constitutes two objects rotating around the same spot.

The system is made up of a white dwarf and a white star, which is its shiniest component. This light in the sky has been known since ancient times. For the Egyptians, it marked the beginning of the annual floods of the Nile, and it was known by Sumerians in 3,000 B.C. Sirius has appeared in myths and legends from different cultures since ancient times. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant even thought that Sirius could be the gravitational center of the entire universe.

The Three Wise Men, which can be seen as part of the constellation of Orion, seem to point towards Sirius in the southeast. There, accompanied by a white dwarf, lies the most luminous star in the night sky. A star that could have inspired three magi from the Orient to embark on a journey to see the son of God.

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