While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, everyone is not entitled to their own set of facts.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What was or is the Star of Bethlehem?

What was or is the Star of Bethlehem?


By Jeffrey Goodman, Ph.D.


            Many people consider the Biblical story of the Star of Bethlehem to be a fairy tale or myth.  Some ask if there was a Star of Bethlehem, where is it now? They say that there is no scientific evidence for the Star as presented in Matthew, chapter 2.  On the other hand, some people speculate that the Star was either a planetary conjunction or a comet.  As scientific knowledge about the heavens rapidly increases, astronomy just might provide a scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem.

            The Christmas story in Matthew tells of wise men who came to Jerusalem searching for the one born King of the Jews for they had “seen his star in the east.”  The wise men probably came from Babylonia tracing back to the prophet Daniel and the Judean exile where a large Jewish population still lived in Babylonia.  They would have made the connection of the star to the Jewish King based on the prophecy told of in Numbers 24:17 which says, “…there shall come a Star out of Jacob and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel ….” 

            During their visit with King Herod, he told them that according to prophecy (Micah 5:2) the ruler of Israel was to come from Bethlehem of Judea. He also asked “what time the star appeared (2:7).”  After the wise men departed for Bethlehem they again saw the same star which they had seen in the east as it stood over where the young child was.  Matthew 2:10 says when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.


            The story provides some very interesting information about the Christmas Star.  First, nothing in the story indicates that everyone saw the Star – only the wise men.  The fact that Herod asks when the star appeared and it appeared again after the wise men left Jerusalem implies that the star was not always visible.  So we can gather that the word “star” is not being used to designate a comet, a planet or a planetary conjunction, objects which can be seen each night moving against the background of stars.  But what kind of star appears, disappears and then reappears?  Maybe the Star of Bethlehem is a very special kind of Star which makes it very hard to locate and to see. 

            Meet the “Red dwarf stars.” Red dwarfs have masses that range from forty percent to just eight percent of the mass of the Sun, and diameters as small as one-seventh the diameter of our Sun.  They emit little light, sometimes less than 1/10,000 that of the Sun.   Red dwarfs are the most common star type in the Galaxy, and twenty-one of the thirty nearest stars to the Sun are red dwarfs.  Some red dwarfs can suddenly erupt and temporarily get much brighter, and the light given off by some red dwarfs can be obscured or concealed by a “nebula” or cloud.  A “nebula” is an interstellar cloud of dust and gases, something quite different than an atmospheric cloud. 

Astronomers call a cloud-enshrouded eruptive red dwarf a “flare star.”[1]  More simply, a flare star is a red dwarf that may undergo very sudden short term changes in brightness.  Most dim red dwarfs are also flare stars.  Since flare stars can suddenly brighten as much as six magnitudes or more and go from invisible to visible and then back to invisible in minutes, a “wise man” who knew both where and when to look could see an otherwise dark red dwarf star when it flares and unveils itself.[2]  Could the star the wise men saw in the East and then saw again in Bethlehem have been a flare star?  A flare star erupting and then suddenly increasing in brightness would explain Matthew 2:10 which says, “When they saw the star (in Bethlehem) they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”  Is this why Matthew 2:7 says Herod secretly asked the wise men “what time the star appeared.”  It is a blessing to be looking in the right place at the right time when a flare star suddenly erupts and unveils itself.  Clearly we are not talking about a star that can be seen with the naked eye each night like the millions of stars that dot the sky each night.

For comparative purposes consider that on April 25, 2008 the tiny “red dwarf star known as EV Lacertae, unleashed a mega flare packing the power of thousands of solar flares.  The flare was not seen but recorded by Russian and American satellites.  To anyone looking in the right spot at the right time the flare would have been visible to the naked eye.  Rachel Osten of NASA’s Goddard Space Center in a report titled “Red dwarf star releases giant burst of light,” and said “Here’s a small cool star that shot off a monster flare.”   It is interesting to note that Proxima Centauri, the closest known star to the Earth (4.22 light years away), and many other known stars closest to the Earth are red dwarf flare stars.  The possibility of being able to find an unknown flare star in the Earth’s stellar neighborhood by modern astronomical techniques is demonstrated by the discovery in 2003 of a faint red dwarf, a probable flare star that at first appeared to represent the third closest star system to our own.  “Our new stellar neighbor is a pleasant surprise, since we weren’t looking for it,” wrote Bonnard Teegarden, an astrophysicist with NASA’s Goddard Flight Center.   Teegarden and his colleagues detected the unknown star while searching a database of telescopic sky survey observations.  “It was while going through the database that researchers discovered the dim red dwarf, which shines about 300,000 times fainter than the Sun. Its faintness has veiled it from astronomers until now. . . .”    Bonnard Teegarden, the discoverer of the new star said, “since the survey only covered a band of the sky (about twenty-five degrees in declination), it is entirely possible that other faint objects remain to be discovered.”

            It should be noted that a number of scientists such as award winning astrophysicist, Richard Mueller of the University of California Berkeley, believe that a dark dwarf star exists in our solar system. For various reasons a number of these astronomers propose that our local star, the Sun, like most other stars in the universe has a companion!  This proposed companion has come to be popularly referred to as “Nemesis.”   Nemesis has still not yet been seen and confirmed after 30 years, most likely because it is “dark,” and it gives off very little light.  Some scientists say that it is not simply faint but actually “sub-luminous” meaning this type of star is relatively cool and does not give off enough radiant energy to be clearly seen via electromagnetic spectral emission in the visible light band.   Another possibility is that something is obscuring the light that this star gives off.  Beyond the Nemesis theory, some astronomers are now searching the sky for small sources of light and infrared radiation, which might indicate the location of a secretive companion star to our Sun, most likely an infrared emitting brown dwarf or a red dwarf.[3] 

The Bible appears to give information about this special type of flaring red dwarf star in a number of different places.  Arguments could be made that some scriptures talk about this star. In light of the detailed information the Bible provides about comets, it would not be surprising that the Bible also gives information about a type of star that can drive comets to the Earth. (For full references please see THE COMETS OF GOD, and see www.thecometsofgod.com and www.newscientificevidenceforgod.com

Psalm 19:4 says, “he hath set a tabernacle for the sun,” and since a “tabernacle” is a “dwelling place” (Interlinear Bible) this suggests that this dark dwarf, is part of the solar system. Psalm 19:6 says, “His going forth is from the end of the heaven (‘heavens’ – Interlinear, NAS, NIV) and his circuit (‘orbit’ – Interlinear Bible) unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof (‘from His heat’ – Interlinear).”  This suggests that the star travels at the end of the solar system (heaven).[4]  When Psalm 19:6 also says that “nothing is hid from the heat thereof or from His heat,” it suggests that this star is an infrared emitter, as infrared radiation is the heat given off by a body.  Infrared radiation is a function of temperature, and this is how night vision glasses work by making heat waves visible.

A flare star, that is, an eruptive red dwarf star enshrouded in a hydrogen cloud, is an infrared emitter, because the dim light it gives off is mostly blocked and converted to additional heat by the thick and opaque hydrogen cloud that conceals it.  II Peter 1:19 may apply here since it talks about “a light that shineth in a dark place” until the day comes when the “day star” arises.  “A light that shineth in a dark place” is an accurate description of a flare star, a star that shines inside the cloud that covers and conceals it.  Finally, it must be noted that most flare stars are dim eruptive red dwarfs and that all flare stars are infrared emitters. 

While the Bible is not a science book, it contains historical and scientific information.  There are scriptures that clearly describe cosmic objects enshrouded by clouds, objects that shine in dark places, and objects that unseen by we Earthlings.  Finally, could the Star out of Jacob, a Scepter out of Israel, the Star seen only by the wise men at the time of Jesus’ birth also be the “sign of the Son of Man in heaven …” Matthew 24:30) that appears with Jesus’ return?  If so, according to the Bible it will make a reappearance that many will see. 

[1]           On December 7, 1947 the American astronomer K. G. Carpenter accidentally photographed UV Ceti while it was flaring.  UV Ceti increased in brightness by a factor of 12 and returned to normal within a three minute time span.  The word didn’t get out to the astronomical community until 1948, and the next flare star discovered, AD Leo, was in 1949. G. A. Gurzadyan, Flare Stars, Pergamom Press, New York, 1980, p. 1.  A different account of the discovery of flare stars is given in Burnham’s Celestial Handbook by Robert Burnham, Dover Publication, New York, 1966, pp. 641 and 642, and in Variable Stars by Michel Petit, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1982, p. 156.  In these two books Willem J. Luyten of the University of Minnesota is credited with first discovering the flaring of the UV Ceti system (L726-8) in 1948, and this discovery being announced by Harvard Observatory in April 1949.  The fainter member of this pair of stars called the UV Ceti system has been called “Luyten’s Flare Star” and it is the classic example of the type.
[2]    The flares of a flare star (stellar flares) are unlike the more familiar flares of our Sun (solar flares).  The flares of a flare star are of a different nature and infinitely greater magnitude than the flares that our sun undergoes.  “A stellar flare is a grandiose event, truly stellar in its scale, an event that, each time it appears, encompasses huge volumes of space around the star and develops with fabulous large speed”— G. A. Gurzadyan, Flare Stars, Pergamon Press, New York, 1980, p. 334.  In an article called “The Atmosphere of M Dwarfs” which appears in The M-Type Stars – NASA (J. Johnson and F. Querci editors) 1986.
[3]           Several astronomical surveys are currently underway.  In particular the “Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer” (WISE) a NASA funded satellite mission carries an infrared sensitive telescope.  Note that instead of giving off radiation in the visible light spectrum, an infrared brown dwarf and many red dwarfs would only give off radiation of invisible infrared wavelengths.
[4]             In the Bible, when used in regard to astronomy the term “heaven” pertains to the “solar system,” and the term “heaven of heavens” pertains to the “greater solar system” which includes both the solar system and the Oort Cloud.  So in regard to astronomy, the term “heavens” indicates both “heaven” and the “heaven of heavens.”