If the Wise Men Followed a Star (Scientifically), Would They End Up in Bethlehem?

The website “What if?,” which looks at hypothetical questions through a physics lens, has tackled a timely idea for the Christmas season.

“The story of the three wise men got me wondering: What if you did walk towards a star at a fixed speed? What path would you trace on the Earth? Does it converge to a fixed cycle?” — N. Murdoch

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

Randall Munroe, a former NASA robotics employee who maintains the webcomic about “romance, sarcasm, math and language,” sets up some assumptions first. Namely, that the Biblical magi will only walk toward the star when it’s in the sky and when the sun has set. For ease of calculations, he also allows for “a little theological confusion” with the assumption that the wise men would be able to walk on water.

He has the wise men follow the star Siruis from Jerusalem, which does in fact take them through Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born. But Munroe acknowledges that “it’s tricky to figure out exactly what the wise men would have been following.” The departure date of the wise men following a star would effect the outcome of their path as well, but he says the overall picture would look the same.

Path following the star Sirius. (Image: What-if.xkcd.com)

If they continued on their way following Siruis, they would end up circling Botswana.

(Image: What-if.xkcd.com)

The wise men could have also followed a planet though (Venus in the night sky shines brighter than many stars, for example). If this was the case, Munroe shows how the path taken by the wise men would have been more erratic looking.

Wise men’s path following Venus. (Image: What-if.xkcd.com)
Wise men’s path following Mars. (Image: What-if.xkcd.com)

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(H/T: Gizmodo)

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