December 2010

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2 (NIV)

“… the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2:9-10  (NIV)

The Magi travelled from the East in search of the King the star had led them to, but what exactly was this star?  There are three prevailing astronomical explanations for the ‘star’:

1.  A  conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, such as argued by Hughes, Molnar and Kidger:

Hughes, D.W. – “The Star of Bethlehem” Nature, 1976, 264, 513-517.

Hughes, D.W. – “The Star of Bethlehem” New York: Pocket Books, 1979.

Molnar, M.R. – “The Star of Bethlehem” New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Kidger, M. – “The Star of Bethlehem” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

2.  A Comet, as argued in

Humphreys, C.J. – “The Star of Bethlehem – A Comet in 5 BC – and the date of the birth of Christ” Q.Jl. R. Astr. Soc., 1991, 32, 389-407.

Humphreys, C.J. – “The Star of Bethlehem”, Science & Christian Belief, 1993, 5, 83-101.

Prof. Sir Colin Humphreys case can be heard in a freely available lecture here.

3.  A supernova or hypernova. This is the case made by Frank J. Tipler who thinks “it must have been a Type 1a supernova or a Type 1c hypernova, located either in the Andromeda Galaxy or, if Type 1a, in a globular cluster of this galaxy” (The Physics of Christianity)

Tipler, F.J. – “The Star of Bethlehem: a Type Ia/Ic Supernova in the Andromeda Galaxy”, Observatory, 2005, 125, 168-174.

In my opinion none of these explanations quite fit all the details, or for that matter the intention of Matthew’s Gospel account.  After all how can an actual star stop directly over a single dwelling place in the small village of Bethlehem!  Naturalistic explanations seem futile.

A nice little video summary, including a simulated Bethlehem night sky, can be view here.


Here are some photos from our time in Wales.  We lived in Borth, just outside Aberystwyth, from October to December 2010.  During this time I was working in the Centre for Glaciology at Aberystwyth University, you can read my work profile here.

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There are plenty of other photos and comments on our experiences in Borth on Ann’s blog here.

My Top 10 music albums of the year:

1.  The Tallest Man On Earth:  The Wild Hunt

A great new discovery for me.  How this guy from Sweden can sound so much like Bob Dylan – I don’t know, but I like it a lot!  I’m not sure this would have topped my list if I had previously heard his 2008 album ‘Shallow Grave’ which is similar.  His recently released EP ‘Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird’ has also enjoyed many a listen.

2.  Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

Arcade Fire deliver once again.  I had hugely anticipated this new offering.  On first listen I was slightly underwhelmed, perhaps because it is a different sound from their previous material, but this has generally really grown on me with repeated listens.

3.  The National: High Violet

The National, one of my favourite bands, I don’t think this album is as good as Boxer, but it’s still amazing.  Is it just me or does anyone else think that this is music for (and by) middle-aged men!?

4.  Vampire Weekend: Contra

Another fun catchy album from Vampire Weekend.  I sense that this one wasn’t liked as much as their debut, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

5.  Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here

Poetry to a Dubstep soundscape!  An underestimated album in my opinion, released way back in January it seems to have been forgotten (or missed) by many.

6.  Beach House: Teen Dream

This seems to have been Beach House’s break through year. I was a fan of their previous album Devotion and am glad this band has reached a wider audience.  The melodic loops can get a bit sickly if you listen to the whole album over and over.

7.  Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

“A mix of crunchy psych-rock, spaced-out ambience, indie rock and pop” (NPR).

8.  Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz

This is probably my present listening favourite.

9.  Caribou: Swim

With a PhD in Mathematics this guy understands the beauty of sound patterns.

10.  Sleigh Bells: Treats

Riotous; crazy, just crazy – you’ve never heard anything like this before.

Because it is so tough to keep a selection to 10, here are some other favourites that came close:

Astro Coast: Surfer Blood

West coast surf grooves.

The Radio Dept.: Clinging to a Scheme

Like ‘I’m New Here’ has a smoker on the front sleeve and like ‘The Tallest Man on Earth’ ‘The Radio Dept.’ is Swedish.

Tame Impala: InnerSpeaker

Psychedelic pop from the land down under.

Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can

Folk music – a British Joni Mitchell!

The New Pornographers: Together

The Vancouver bands best album to date (in my opinion)

Fool’s Gold: Fool’s Gold

More African rhythms than ‘Vampire Weekend’.  The opening track ‘Surprise Hotel’ is an absolute cracker.

And some others that get an honourable mention:

The Walkman: Lisbon

Yeasayer: ODD BLOOD

Broken Social Scene: The Forgiveness Rock Record

Jonsi: Go

If your want to know the music critic lists check out this compendium with a complete list of lists!