Grant Mathews is a theoretical astrophysicist and cosmologist at the University of Notre Dame whose research addresses such unknowns as the age of the galaxy or at what rate the universe is expanding.
He also is intrigued by one of the enduringseasonalmysteries, namely, the nature of the Star of Bethlehem, said to have led the three Magi to the birthplace of Christ.
While neither Mathews nor anyone else has solved the puzzle, he has applied the tools of modern astrophysics to search for evidence that some astronomical event occurred during the time frame of Jesusbirth.
An increasingly rich archive of information, stored in a variety of astronomical databases, has the potential to shed new light on this ancient puzzle,he said.
Mathews will give four public presentations of his research, titledWhat and When was the Christmas Star?in the Digital Visualization Theatre of Notre Dames Jordan Hall of Science at 7 p.m. on Dec. 15 (Saturday); 3 p.m. on Dec. 16 (Sunday); 7 p.m. on Dec. 22 (Saturday); and 3 p.m. on Dec. 23 (Sunday).
His investigative method is built around a key set of questions: When did the event occur? Who might have seen it? And what were its characteristics, such as color, brightness and the length of the occurrence?
In this case, thewhenis spelled out in the Bible. The appearance of a similar sounding event in ancient Chinese and Korean texts indicates that others from various cultures also observed a phenomenon.
Mathews cross-references these clues against increasingly sophisticated databases collected by the NASA Space Science Institute, including Hubble Space telescope spectra and images from the X-ray observatory satellite called Chandra.
His latest studies involve possible archival evidence of a supernova or nova, which could correspond to the event, also recorded in the Far East. Cross-correlating Chinese astronomy records with NASA databases, he has identified two novae that are good candidates.
These may have occurred, along with a very rare alignment of the planets, which would have indicated to the Magi a special birth and a change of regimes in Judea,he said.These possible explanations are new in that they are based upon archives and imagery only recently available.
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