Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! (Whatever!)
It’s Christmas in July!
Ever since I was a kid, that age-old, mid-summer marketing slogan has cracked me up. It still makes me laugh! But these days I have a new take on it, just a slight twist:
It’s Christmas in June!
According to the recent work of an Australian astronomer, maybe Christmas should be in June. I know the alleged birthday of the alleged baby Jesus (I’m an alleged journalist–gotta have proof before publishing anything as fact!) has long been in dispute. I’ve always suspected if some Immaculate Conception and miracle birth ever really happened, it was likely not in December.
But I never really cared. Christmas has always seemed to me to be as much a secular holiday, for a welcome winter break, and a commercial/consumer holiday, as much as a religious one.
And nowadays, with all the back-and-forth, the flaps, flack and fluster about being politically correct and all-inclusive during the holiday season, well, it’s even more fun than it used to be!
Astronomer Dave Reneke, news editor for Sky & Space magazine, has postulated that a spectacular heavenly event, about 2000 years ago, offers hard evidence to pinpoint the birth of Jesus to a specific date: June 17, 2BC.
Should we swap Father’s Day sales for those blowout, “Christmas In July” sales?
According to an article in an Australian publication (link below), Reneke says astronomy charting software has allowed astronomers to go back in time, so to speak, and map the night sky as it would have been 2000 years ago.
“It’s like a digital map where we can move forward in time as well as backwards,” Reneke explained.
What researchers have discovered is not a comet, supernova or exploding star–common theories thrown about for years–but a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. They’ve pinpointed this planetary dance, when those two bodies in the night sky came together and appeared as one, to that exact date in 2BC.
Reneke said the conjunction of the planets was so close, they would have appeared as one very bright star, a “beacon of light,” and been visible across the eastern sky at dawn as Venus and Jupiter moved across the constellation of Leo on June 17, 2BC.
So if there were indeed three kings of the Orient, or three wise men, or three blind mice, following a star to Bethlehem, modern science proves they had something spectacular, beautiful and alluring to guide them.
“They could easily have mistaken it for one bright star. Astronomy is such a precise science, we can plot exactly where the planets were. It certainly seems this is the fabled Christmas star,” Reneke said.
I can say I was certainly captivated by the beauty of Jupiter and Venus last month when they formed a tight triangle with the crescent moon. That was gorgeous! And when the space shuttle and space station cut a straight line across the night sky next to them, I was, well, star struck.
Christmas may or may not be a religious holiday for you, but this is definitely a great time of year for caring and sharing among loved ones, be it family, friends or whatever kind of community warms your heart. May your holiday season be filled with peace, love and joy!
About Dave Reneke, news editor for Sky & Space magazine: