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The brilliant star that guided wise men to the birthplace of Jesus, according to the Bible, most likely wasn't a "star in the east" at all, according to Bruce Hanna, director of Old Dominion University's Pretlow Planetarium.

Rather, it was probably a triple conjunction - a bright grouping of planets in the sky - that attracted their attention. Records indicate that a triangular alignment of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter occurred on Dec. 4 in 7 B.C. Such phenomena occur every 150-800 years, Hanna said.

In order for the wise men to follow this light during their journey, it would have to have been long-lasting, ruling out a meteor or meteor shower, Hanna added. Astrological records from the era also make no mention of a supernova, which can last for months and would have been noticed, he said. A triple conjunction can be bright, visible both day and night.


Robert Wojtowicz, chair of the Old Dominion art department, has listed the top 10 holiday works of art.

"Christmas iconography is really a phenomenon of the 19th century to the present, so what I've developed is a personal and idiosyncratic list that brings in older images that have a Christ-child or winter theme." In no particular order, they are:

· Gentile da Fabriano, "Adoration of the Magi," Florence, Uffizi Museum, 1423 - "Richly populated and colorful rendition of the Wise Men's procession."
· Sandro Boticelli, "Madonna and Child," National Gallery, Washington, D.C. 1490 - "A tender treatment of the familiar subject."
· Raphael, "Sistine Madonna," Dresden, c. 1510 - "One with the whimsical angels perched at the bottom -- too bad they've been over-reproduced lately!"
· Jan Steen, "Feast of St. Nicholas," Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, c. 1660-1665 - "An amusing genre painting that shows how people celebrated in the past."
· Gilbert Stuart, "The Skater," National Gallery, Washington, 1782 - "A minister ice-skating in London -- need I say more?"
· Caspar David Friedrich, "The Cross and the Cathedral," Kunstmuseen, Dusseldorf, c. 1811 - "A wintery view of Christmas-like fir trees and a Gothic cathedral."
· Currier and Ives, "Homestead in Winter," c. 1865 - "A popular print even today showing an American farmhouse with a sleigh in front."
· Haddon Sundblom, The Coca Cola Santa Claus, c. 1930 - advertising design -- "The best of the illustrators' various Santas."
· Flexible Flyer Sled, c. 1930-present -- Industrial design - "The best possible child's gift and still in production."
· Associated Architects, Rockefeller Center -- with Christmas tree and skating rink -- New York, 1931-1941 "The best Christmas urban architectural ensemble."

This article was posted on: December 20, 2000

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