According to the Christmas story in the Bible, the 3 wise men followed a star to find the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.

Over the last 2000 years, thee have been all sorts of suggestions as to what it was that they followed and now astronomers think they are getting close to an answer.

Halley’s comet was visible in the night sky in 11BC, but this would have changed position in the sky as the Earth rotated, making it practically impossible to follow.

Astronomers have also ruled out a nova or a supernova, because these would leave behind some detectable traces which would still be “visible” today.

The two most plausible answers are that they wise men followed either:

  • an astrological interpretation of the sky
  • a conjunction.

As evidence for the former, astrology was very popular at the time and the magi could have been interpreting what they saw in the sky to give them guidance.

Supporting the second idea, is the fact that alignments of planets and other astronomical bodies can produce a bright light in the sky, which seems to appear in about the same place in the sky each night over a period of time.  It has been suggested that Saturn, Jupiter, the Moon and the Sun came together in the sky.

Whatever they followed, it is likely that there is an astronomical explanation for it.

Don’t forget to check the sky tonight – you may see Santa flying over on his way to deliver presents to the millions of children all over the world.  Or it could just be the International Space Station!

Until next time, keep calm and apply some Science!

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What Did The Wise Men Follow?