The Bible says that the Magi followed a star on its journey from the East, which stopped just above the place where Jesus was born, known as the Star of Bethlehem.
Many centuries later, the Florentine artist Giotto di Bondone painted around 1305 the Adoration of the Magi, one of his many frescoes depicting the Holy Family that the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy.
But on the manger, Giotto painted a comet, not a traditional star, since it has a tail typical of these space objects.
Many experts believe that Giotto was probably inspired by none other than Halley’s Comet. It appeared low in the sky of what is now Italy only a few years earlier, in the fall of 1301. Its intense glow must have caught the attention of locals.
Although generally viewed as early signs of calamity, comets were seen as signs of change, such as the arrival of a new king around the wheel. It is not unreasonable that Giotto was able to choose a comet, especially one that was familiar to him, as a symbol of change for the star of Bethlehem in his painting.
Interestingly, no one at the time knew that they were seeing Halley’s Comet. People had no idea that comets orbited the Sun and reappeared after a period of years. They were unpredictable, fiery and punctual phenomena that are considered part of the atmosphere.
A PERIOD OF 75 YEARS
It was the Englishman Edmund Halley, who, using a new formulation of Newton’s laws, found that the events of 1531, 1607 and 1682 were different appearances of the same comet. In his honor, Halley’s Comet was named.
Taking into account the 75-year period of this comet, it turns out that Halley appeared above the sky in 12 BC, within a margin of six years from the actual date of Jesus’ birth.
In March 1986, a European space probe flew 600 kilometers from the nucleus of Halley’s Comet, taking photographs of it and examining its surface and the coma of dust and gas in detail. The Giotto probe was named in honor of the artist who made the first realistic portrait of a comet in Western art.