According to Christian lore, three Magi from the East followed a star to Jerusalem looking to find a newly born Jesus Christ. They told King Herod the exact time they saw the star appear, he directed them to Bethlehem, and they came across the infant directly below where the star stopped.

The Star of Bethlehem has obsessed theologians and astronomers since its first mention in the Bible. However, theoretical astrophysicist Grant Mathews says that he has the answer. The Star of Bethlehem wasn’t a star at all, but the result of an extremely rare alignment of planets.

Mathews says that during this 6 B.C. planetary alignment the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn where all in the part of the sky known as Aries. Meanwhile, Venus was right next door in Pisces, while Mercury and Mars were on the other side in Taurus. He also believes that an alignment of this sort is likely to never happen again — he ran calculations for the next 500,000 years and a similar alignment never came up.

A professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology at the University of Notre Dame, Matthews is currently working on a book on this subject. In a statement released last week by Notre Dame, Mathews says that he came to this conclusion after a decade of studying historical, astronomical, and biblical records.

The Wise Men definitely didn't look like this.
The Wise Men definitely didn't look like this.

“I feel a kindred connection to these ancient Magi,” Matthews said, “who earnestly scanned the heavens for insight into the truth about the nature and evolution of the universe, just as we do today.”

These Magi, Zoroastrian priests of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia, were definitely not slobs when it came to astronomy. Joe Rao, an instructor at New York’s Hayden Planetarium, has written previously that the people of that era and place were “very familiar with the motions of the sun, moon, and planets.” They wouldn’t have thought twice about a bright star or planet — it would have taken a very rare sight to get them riled up.

Matthew’s theory joins many other attempts to scientifically explain the Star of Bethlehem. Astronomers have previously theorized the star was a supernova, Uranus, or Halley’s Comet while some claim it never existed at all.

Photos via Flickr/Waiting for the Word, Flickr/Waiting For The World