The Stars of the Manger and of Kings: this week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 24, 2018

The Beehive Cluster of stars, known sometimes as the "manger" is washed out by the waning gibbous Moon on Christmas morning, but Regulus, the star of kings, will be visible.

The waning gibbous Moon is activating a centuries old traditional story this week when it sweeps past the Beehive Star Cluster an hour before sunrise Christmas morning, and then past the star Regulus at the heart of Leo, the Lion the morning following.

The Beehive Cluster was first catalogued in 130 AD by the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in his “Almagest”. This fuzzy group of stars is at the heart of the constellation Cancer, and Ptolemy used a word to describe them that means both “hive” and “manger”.

The star Regulus marks the heart of the constellation Leo, and was always regarded as the star of kings, as its regal name suggests! 

So the Moon is taking a journey this week, from the stars of the manger to the star of kings, and though these stars always appear in the morning sky in this season, the Moon does not.

Now it’s interesting to note that Ptolemy recorded his catalogue of stars in nearly the same period that the New Testament of the Bible was first being written down, around the 1st century AD. But at the time, the most sacred ceremony of the season was about the mystery of the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth, not the birth of the Christ Child. It was nearly four centuries before Nativity festivals began to be celebrated.

Still, we can imagine that what was being read in the stars of this season told of this sacred journey, from the stars of the manger to the star of kings.

If you’re up early, you can watch the Moon as it makes its own end-of-year journey, past the manger of stars on Christmas morning, then past the star of kings the next day, all the way until it encounters Venus, the planet of love and beauty, on New Year’s Day.