Asked by: Paul Wilkes, Tonbridge
Ancient Chinese records report the appearance of a bright comet in 5BC and also the sudden flare-up of a star in 4BC – both around the time when Christ is now thought to have been born. However, some researchers have claimed these events lack the astrological significance of ‘portents’ involving the Moon and planets, which would have attracted attention among scholars of the time.
This has led to the emergence of two top contenders for explaining the Star of Bethlehem. The first is a so-called ‘occultation’ in 6BC, when the Moon appeared to pass in front of Jupiter in the night sky. The second contender is an unusual triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which took place in 7BC, when these two great planets repeatedly appeared close to one another.
Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.