Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Christmas Star: Does any other option seem plausible?

From an astronomical perspective, one remaining candidate would be a recurring nova. The nova (plural, novae) is a stellar explosion that produces a sudden increase in brightness followed by a gradual dimming (within a few months or years). This type of event lacks the brightness of a supernova and yet would be clearly noticeable to a careful observer. The brightest novae are about as bright as Polaris, the North Star.

Nova events are sufficiently uncommon to catch the attention of observers as alert and well trained as the magi must have been. However, nearly all novae that occurred during the Roman Empire era were sufficiently unspectacular as to escape the attention of casual observers. Chinese astronomers recorded a nova in the constellation Capricorn in March-April of 5 BC, and Korean astronomers noted something in 4 BC that could have been either a nova or a comet. These two sightings are the only ones on record near the estimated time of Christ’s birth.

Most novae experience a single explosion, but a rare few undergo multiple explosions separated by months or years. This repeat occurrence would seem to fit the Matthew 2 indication that the star appeared, disappeared, and then reappeared. According to Herod’s murderous decree, the time separation between the first and second appearance of the star would have been somewhere between 15 and 30 months. Unlike other suggestions for the identity of the Christmas star, a recurring nova would appear and then reappear in exactly the same location on the celestial sphere.

Let me emphasize again that my suggestion represents nothing more than a possibility. Matthew provides the only record of this star, and his record gives us insufficient data to make a definitive conclusion.

(Tomorrow: "How could a star guide the magi to the right house?")

[This series is take from Hugh Ross on "Reasons To Believe"]

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