2009-12-24

Astronomers in London looking for Christmas star

Have you ever wondered about the real origin of the star that shines atop many a Christmas tree? The story of Jesus' birth in the Bible talks about a star guiding the "Three Wise Men" to the manger, the star heralding the birth of a king. But did that star actually exist? Astronomers in London have been trying to find out.

Looking out across snow-covered London is the Greenwich Royal Observatory.

At the Astronomy Centre, public astronomer Marek Kukula explains that despite the precise records of star movements kept by the Chinese at the time, there is no precise date for when the Wise Men tracked the "star", so it is difficult to know precisely what they witnessed.

One theory is that it was a conjunction of planets, where two or more planets seem to pass close together.

Marek Kukula, public astronomer of Greenwich Royal Observatory, said, "Another thing that could have seemed important at the time is what we call an occultation, when the moon passes in front of a planet and again there are cases of those happening in the years leading up to 1 B.C. so it could have been any of those and we really don't know."

Thousands of people around the world now follow star movements as amateur or professional astronomers. But in the year Jesus was born, watching the stars was something that everyone did, not just to try to predict future important events, but also to navigate.

Visitors to the Greenwich Observatory this Christmas are learning about the constellations more than 2,000 years later and also the technology now being used to study what's happening in the universe around us.

Mattheu, Observatory visitor, said, "When I was watching something in the other room, with black holes, if we do go into space then you know what causes a black hole and you know what to look out for and stuff."

The exploration by man into space and the pictures taken by the Hubble space telescope of the outer realms of our universe all pose as many questions as answers to scientists studying astronomy today.

With continuing advances in technology, the next generation of scientists hope finally to be able to get to the bottom of some of the most fundamental questions.

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