Spending a night gazing at the stars

Star Light, Star Bright, First star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might…Like many people, I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky. Learning to locate the North Star, naming the constellations and discovering their stories and tracking the Milky Way across the sky were all fun lessons that I’ve been happy to pass along to others along the way. Also like many people, I’ve wished on my fair share of shooting stars, with varying results. Full disclosure, I actually started watching Star Trek and Star Wars because I wanted to imagine flying through space and watching the stars whizz by.

Stargazing seems to be a family trait. An assignment with a star finding cell phone app really got darling son interested in science and astronomy. Darling daughter’s teacher had planned a class outing to watch either the Perseid or the Leonid meteor shower. It got canceled due to weather, and the poor girl was bummed for a week.

I remember hearing that the Geminid shower was due to occur sometime in mid-December, and promptly filed it away in my brain for later reference. Usually, said part of my brain interprets this as MUCH later reference, usually after the event. So, it was a happy surprise when, while driving home from Tae Kwon Do, Darling Daughter and I saw a large green meteor falling slowly to Earth. Shockingly enough, the brain made the connection. As we made our way home, we saw a few more, but the fun ended as we noticed that we were driving into cloud cover. Noticing that it was late, but realizing that we had a rare opportunity, I gave my daughter the option of either heading home and hoping the clouds were thinner there or driving back out to an area where we could skywatch just a little longer.

She thought a while, took a deep breath, then said “Your call,” in a small voice. She was pretty sure I was going to head home in time for bedtime. I knew what I had to do. I braked, found a driveway, and turned around. The atmosphere in the vehicle suddenly became electric with her excitement. She peppered me with questions about meteors, stars, and the cosmos in general. We finally found a likely spot, drove a ways down a dirt road, and turned off the lights to wait.

With Christmas music playing softly in the background and the car blankets covering the dash lights, we raptly surveyed the skies outside the windshield, side windows, even the moonroof with breathless anticipation. “There’s one!” “Another one!” “Did you see that?” “Shucks, just a plane.” The cold wind was howling outside that night, but we sat safe and warm, watching falling stars to the strains of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Unplanned, unprepared, yet perfect.

Moving stars go with the territory this season. In the Bible, the Magi followed a star to Bethlehem to find Jesus. There are several theories about what this object actually was. Some think it might have been a supernova, but the evidence for that outside of the Far East is nonexistent. A large supernova would have left a remnant visible today, and there isn’t one.

Others say that it wasn’t an overly bright star, but a conjunction of stars and planets when paired with prophecy, could suggest the direction to travel or location of an occurrence. Since the Magi were likely educated in astrology, as well as astronomy, this seems to be a viable explanation.

One of the most obvious explanations would be a comet. Comets do indeed appear to not only travel but hover over a certain location, depending on how you’re viewing them. The Bible, however, is definite about calling it a star, and one would assume that the writers knew the difference between a star and a comet. In addition, at that time, comets were seen as bad omens, and one would also assume that the birth of the Savior of mankind wouldn’t be heralded by a bad omen. None of these occurrences happened near enough to the date of the birth of Christ to be truly viable.

That leaves one final possibility. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (through his character Sherlock Holmes) said that “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” The only explanation, then, is that it was a miracle. And before you tell me you don’t believe in miracles, look around you. Look in the mirror. Look at your family and friends. We’re all walking miracles in one way or another.

When you wish upon a star this Christmas, remember that He who made the stars loves you. Merry Christmas to all of you, and Happy New Year.

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