Faith and research: An annual tradition

Author: Jessica Sieff

On Dec. 9 and 11, Grant Mathews, professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Notre Dame, will present his annual astrophysical perspective on the origins of the star of Bethlehem — also known as the Christmas Star.  

Now in its 16th year, the lecture takes a closer look at one of the most symbolic aspects of the Christmas season through the eyes of science — and it has become an annual tradition, which was Mathews’ hope from the start.

“Some families come every year,” Mathews said. “They bring their kids. They bring their grandkids. The Christmas season is a time to give back to the community. So, I asked myself, ‘What can the College of Science do?’ Science is communication. It’s an art form. Any chance you have to communicate with the public is a blessing. It’s a chance to do what God made you to do.”

Mathews’ research includes analysis of historical, astronomical and biblical records going back to 6 B.C. to determine what Zoroastrian priests of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia actually saw that led them to the birthplace of Jesus. 

Read more about Mathews’ study on the star of Bethlehem.

He believes the event was a rare planetary alignment in the constellation Aries in 6 B.C., which won’t be seen again. Current calculations show a similar alignment won’t occur again for 16,000 years — and the exact alignment believed to be the Bethlehem Star is not found in calculations looking as far as 500,000 years into the future.

“Science is around us all of the time,” said Mathews. “Here is this significant astronomical event associated with the Christmas season. Through an astrophysical lens, we can better understand the nature of the Christmas star. In the process of researching it, I’ve found it to have a very interesting, spiritually rich history.”

“What and when was the Christmas Star?” will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 (Friday) and 3 p.m. Dec. 11 (Sunday) at Notre Dame’s Digital Visualization Theater, located in the Jordan Hall of Science. 

The event is free and open to the public.

Originally published by Jessica Sieff at news.nd.edu on December 01, 2022.