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The Star Of Bethlehem

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It seems almost traditional at this time of year for stargazers to ponder the age-old question of the possible origin of the Star of Bethlehem. Was the so-called Christmas Star an unusual, eye-catching gathering of naked-eye planets, or was that fabled "sign in the sky" a meteor, comet, nova, or indeed something supernatural?

New knowledge of the old astrological beliefs and modern computer-based planetary tables may yet shed new light on this age-old question. But before going back in time to explore the possible answers, one needs to understand the many problems behind the questions.

There are many factors that contribute to the puzzle, including the uncertainty in the actual date of Christ’s birth and the terminology used to describe celestial events during the Star’s appearance some 20 centuries ago. For instance, any heavenly object bright enough to attract attention was apt to be called a "star." Meteors, for instance, were "shooting" or "falling " stars; comets were "hairy" stars; novae were "new" stars and planets were "wandering" stars.

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