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[In the context of Aaron’s upcoming book, The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, I thought it would make sense to showcase his latest comment on the Star and its potential candidates. Check out his blog here. JP]

It’s been a good, long time since I have seen a bright, naked-eye comet in the sky. The last I remember was Hale-Bopp back in 1996, and that was a remarkable sight. But there is a lot of hope now for Comet ISON (aka C/2012 S1), which was discovered only a matter of months ago. Not only it is slated to be a very bright object, but what is more interesting to me is its orbit.

The trajectory it has is almost a parabola. Why is that interesting? Because that means it will not have a recurring orbit; it will fly off from the sun, never to return. This indicates that the comet comes all the way from the Oort Cloud, one of the remnants of the formation of the solar system. This comet, far more than Halley’s Comet, could tell us a lot about the early materials the solar system was formed from. This will be a fantastic sight for amateur and professional sky watchers.

But comets also tend to make people a little odd. Hale-Bopp, mentioned above, was also used by members of the Heaven’s Gate cult as conviction of the coming of the space men to take their souls to heaven; this lead to the suicide of 39 people in March of 1997. And Carl Sagan noted in his Cosmos series how some thought that a comet would kill everyone on Earth because the tale has trace amounts of cyanide gas.

So perhaps it isn’t that surprising to see people connect this object to all sorts of pseudo-astronomical items. Universe Today months ago debunked the idea that Comet ISON is the fictional planet Nibiru. Please note that the only Nibiru that has any scientific or entertainment value is the one from Star Trek: Into Darkness (as I discuss here). Otherwise, Nibiru has been mind-numbing make-believe, and people keep “seeing” it every other year. It was supposed to bring us doom last year, you know. D’oh!

But because this is perhaps going to be the Comet of the Century, the conspiracies around it have to reach biblical proportions. A few places have tried to argue that the comet we will be seeing later this year was the same comet at the birth of Jesus; that is, Comet ISON is the return of the Star of Bethlehem. One user at the conspiracy websiteAbove Top Secret, InnerPeace2012, wonders if this is the case. Well, if the Star were a comet, it cannot be this one because, as noted above, the parabolic orbit means it is not a recurring comet. It never was close to the Sun and Earth in the past, and it never will again. It’s a one-time show. A few others in the comments argue against InnerPeace2012, including one person who doesn’t think Jesus was born at all. So there is a rather interesting bit of diversity of opinions there, it seems.

Now, this user isn’t the only one who thinks that ISON may be a return of the Christmas Star. I have seen a particular spammer going about the Internet, writing usually in all caps (because what that person says is SO IMPORTANT), about the Star = ISON connection (cf. herehere). This person figures the comet has a 333-340 year orbit so it would be close to the time of Jesus’s birth, but again this can’t be; the comet is on a parabolic orbit, so it has no period. So if you see this same bit of spam on your blog or website, you can ignore it’s “facts”.

But others have connected the comet to the Star in a more indirect way. Comet ISON is like the Star of Bethlehem in that it has a great announcement to make. At Godlike Productions, one forum user thinks that the comet is a sign of the Anti-Christ coming to Earth. That person calls this a “return” of the comet, so again people are forcing periodicity to this comet. Others in the forum page are worried about the cyanide gas from the comet which those in power will avoid in their bunkers (it’s 1910 all over again, it seems), while another person exposits how the real Star of Bethlehem was some special alignment of the Sun and other stars, and somehow the end of the world will be in 2019. At this point, is there a year that has not be thought to be the last year?

More of the same of the Comet ISON related to the Rapture or End Times can be found in other places (here and here), but things get cranked up to 11 by the energetic Pastor Paul Begley:

YouTube video

The claims here are that the Star of Bethlehem was a very bright comet (doesn’t say how he knows that), that ISON was named to mean I (as in Yahweh) and SON (God’s son) (because grammar or logic aren’t needed here), that the comet will carry the thumbprint and DNA of God (because a ball of ice, ammonia and dust is the same think as divine DNA, right?), and that this comet fits the signs of the End Times because it reaches its closest approach to the Sun on the anniversary of Israel getting some UN recognition in 1947 (even though it was really in May 1948 that any real recognition from the UN was granted). So, Begley’s assertions about the possibility of the Rapture coming around the corner because of the appearance of this comet are not all that likely. And if he asks me “ARE YOU SERIOUS!?!?”, I can say “Yes, I am. And put down the coffee, I can’t stand watching a heart attack in action.”

So, it appears that this holiday is going to have a lot of prophecies, as last year did with December 2012 predictions. In other words, prepare for more of the same. I predict that these predictions are as likely to come true as all of the hundreds of others before this one.

And if you are interested in finding out if a comet was the Star of Bethlehem, you will want to read my upcoming book. Hopefully it will be out no later than October and perhaps even this month. Stay tuned!