The newly discovered Comet Lovejoy provided quite a light show earlier this week as if on cue for Christmas, giving NASA’s International Space Station commander a story to tell that left even the seasoned astronaut in awe.
The comet, which was discovered by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy in early December, was viewed by astronauts in the space station and described as leaving “a sliver of blue and purple and then there was this long, green arc.”
When discovered, scientists did not expect Comet Lovejoy to survive the sun’s searing heat as it passed through its corona last week.
While the subject of the Star of Bethlehem or Christmas Star comes up every year at this time, some wondered if the Comet Lovejoy phenomenon is something like what the wise men must have seen more than 2,000 years ago:
“Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’
“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” – Matthew 2:7-10 NKJV
Comet Lovejoy's movement and spectacular display was captured on video by the International Space Station and described by 15-year NASA veteran, commander Daniel Burbank. The video was originally posted on NASA’s website.
The comet was seen from about 240 miles above the earth’s horizon on Wednesday. Burbank described the comet as “the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space,” in an interview with Detroit’s WDIV-TV.
He added, “That’s saying an awful lot because every day is filled with amazing things.”
In a video taken from inside the space station, he says, “We were flying over Tasmania. We’d actually just seen the storms in the South Pacific over the Philippines. It was nighttime, thunderstorms lighting up the entire sky. And then just before the sun came up, the earth’s limb was lit up as a sliver of blue and purple and then there was this long, green arc that extended probably 10 degrees or so from the horizon … It’s probably the most spectacular thing you could imagine ...”
In a column posted at Space.com headlined “Was the Star of Bethlehem, a Star, Comet … or Miracle?” astronomy expert Joe Rao concludes his article by addressing the “mystery.”
Rao quotes Hubert J. Bernhard, a lecturer who produced an astronomy series in 1967 that included the Star of Bethlehem as a topic.
"If you accept the story told in the Bible as the literal truth, then the Christmas Star could not have been a natural apparition. Its movement in the sky and its ability to stand above and mark a single building; these would indicate that it was not a normal phenomenon, but a supernatural sign. One given from on high and one that science will never be able to explain," said Bernhard in the lecture series recording.
Rao, who serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium, concludes his column by stating, “Indeed, perhaps this is a mystery that modern science can never truly unravel. Astronomy has taken us as far as it can go. The final decision is yours, alone.”
Meanwhile, there may be a chance for people on earth to see Comet Lovejoy again in the Southern Hemisphere, according to astronomy experts.