With the big day a bit over a week away let’s look back at Christmas Eve 1968 and remember one of the most watched space missions in history.
Apollo 8 was the first time humans had ever viewed the Earth as a whole planet and seen the far side of the moon with their own eyes.
Millions around the world were watching and listening as astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit another world.
It was Christmas Eve and this mission had the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice. The astronauts wanted to send the first Christmas message from the Moon. The only instructions that they got from NASA was to do something appropriate.
As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images and took turns reading from the book of Genesis.
Every year around this time people notice the brilliant ‘star’ to the east just before sunrise. It’s Venus of course, but for a lot of folk it conjures up thoughts of the Christmas Star. Well, it is big and bright, and it’s getting close to the big day so - was the Christmas Star real? Let’s take a closer look.
The ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is one of the most powerful, and enigmatic symbols of Christianity. Was it purely a divine sign, or was it an astronomical event in its own right? I became curious and did some investigating.
With modern astronomy software programs astronomers can reproduce the night sky exactly as it was, thousands of years ago.
So, armed with an approximate date for the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s version of the Bible, my astronomy group and I began our search for the star of Bethlehem.
Historical records and our own computer simulations indicate that there was a rare series of planetary groupings, known as conjunctions, during the years 3BC and 2BC. As we watched the screen, the two brightest planets Venus and Jupiter started moving closer together. Wow! Like the final pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, our fabled biblical beacon started to reveal itself.
The crowning touch came ten months later, on June 17 2BC, as Venus and Jupiter appeared to actually join up. The two planets were so close that they would have looked like one single brilliant white beacon of light. Was this indeed the fabled Christmas star the three wise men saw?