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Friday, December 5, 2008

Check out tonight's sky after sunset; it may be like the one the wise men saw

By Nan Lundeen

If you haven't seen the southwestern sky just after sunset, and even if you have, feast your eyes tonight -- it may be the same spectacular show that drew the wise men to Bethlehem in search of a newborn king.

From our vantage point on the planet, it's a glowing triangle of Venus, Jupiter and the waxing crescent moon.

"Tonight would be another good night to get out," said astronomer Doug Gegen of the Roper Mountain Science Center.

The weather forecast is mostly clear.

"The fun part of this is it's all a naked eye kind of thing so everybody can enjoy it," Gegen said.

If you have a really good pair of binoculars, steady yourself by leaning against a wall, and check out Jupiter (the planet on the right). You ought to be able to pick out Jupiter's moons, Gegen said.

From now on, the planets are going to start separating and "the moon is going to start hustling to the east from night to night," Gegen said.

Turns out it's an appropriate season for the show -- some folks believe it was a convergence of planets that got the wise men started on their way to Bethlehem, Gegen said even though Christ's birth may have occurred in springtime, and came to be celebrated in December. Over the centuries, a convergence would be seen during different seasons.

"Everything in the sky was referred to as a star," Gegen said. Nobody knew about planets then, he said.

Because the wise men were Zoroastrian priests, they paid close attention to the sky, he said. A convergence of planets with the star, Regulus in the heart of Leo, "would have pushed them over the edge -- time to go and see the newborn king," Gegen said.

On June 17, 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus were closely aligned in Leo, according to theoretical astrophysicist, Grant Mathews of the University Notre Dame, as reported by msnbc.

"Nobody knows exactly what happened, but it certainly was an event in the heavens that propelled the wise men to Bethlehem," Gegen said.

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