Valdosta Daily Times

November 28, 2012

The Star of Bethlehem

VSU Planetarium explores the Christmas star

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — At a time when people are placing stars atop Christmas trees, Valdosta State University presents a look at the star that inspired them all.

VSU Planetarium hosts three public showings of “The Star of Bethlehem” later this week. This annual Christmastime look at the stars has shown regularly since 1983 and has become the most popular planetarium show, says Dr. Kenneth S. Rumstay, a VSU professor of astronomy and physics and the VSU Observatory director.

For “The Star of Bethlehem,” the planetarium recreates the night sky from the time and place of Jesus’ birth. Though 2,000 years have passed since that time, the constellations remain unchanged today, Rumstay says, the planetarium is programmed to reveal the skies available to the eyes of people viewing from the Middle East in two millennia ago.

It also seeks to reveal the phenomenon behind the Star of Bethlehem which guided the biblical wise men to Jesus in the manger.

Matthew 2:2 and 2:9 mention how the Magi followed a star which they believed signified the coming of the King of the Jews.

Matthew 2:2 states, “Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Matthew 2:9 reads, “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”

Jesus, of course, was born during the reign of King Herod, but Herod died in the year 4 B.C. so, contrary to popular belief, Jesus was not born in the year 1 A.D.,” according to VSU’s program notes. “The Christian calendar does not actually count the years since Jesus’ birth because of an error by the 4th century monk Dionysius Exiguus. But biblical accounts and other historical records provide clues as to when Jesus was born and when he died.”

The Book of Matthew contains numerous astrological events known to the wise men. “Several natural explanations for the Star of Bethlehem have been proposed in the past by astronomers, including that it may have been a comet or an exploding star,” according to VSU.

Observation, however, does not support these theories, Rumstay notes.

“The Star of Bethlehem was most likely a rare triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn which occurred in the year 7 B.C.,” according to VSU. “The Star of Bethlehem” program recreates this triple conjunction which some believe may have served as the inspiration for the wise men’s three gifts.

Planetarium visitors will also see a presentation of a more rare planet massing from April 17, 6 B.C. “Such a grouping would have been astrologically auspicious for a divine birth and may have been the basis of Luke’s ‘multitude of the heavenly host.’”

While “The Star of Bethlehem” program is family friendly, Rumstay says this particular planetarium presentation may be of more interest to adults than children.


VSU Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences presents “The Star of Bethlehem.”

When: Three shows, 7, 8, 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30.

Where: VSU Planetarium, Room NH3004, Nevins Hall, VSU campus.

Admission: Free and open to the public.

Note: Since the planetarium can seat only 47 per show, reservations should be made for the 7, 8 and 9 p.m. shows at 6 p.m. that day at the table in front of the planetarium. Reservations may not be made by telephone; admission is on a “first-come, first-served” basis. The program is suitable for visitors age 5 and above.

More information: Contact the VSU Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences, (229) 333-5752.