Category Archives: Astronomy Myths and Legends

Prepare For A Blood Moon

For this Throwback Thursday, I’d like to open with a classic movie scene:

Well, don’t worry, the world won’t end, but I can promise you an epic, blood red moon! There will be a super moon, a blood, moon, and a lunar eclipse all on the same day on September 27th, and I can’t wait to see it!

Read more about it here at Space.com http://www.space.com/30546-supermoon-blood-moon-total-lunar-eclipse.html 

If you want to read more about  and red moons, click on some of my previous posts below.

  1. The Tale of the Blood Red Moon
  2. Super Moon Madness

Cool and Creepy Museum Site

I’m working on how to cast your own horoscope, so I found this incredible online exhibit post from the Mutter Museum in Philly. They specialize in all kinds of weird medical stories and abnormal skeletons and things like that. Fortunately, they also specialize in Astrology! Check out this post: http://www.cppdigitallibrary.org/exhibits/show/astrology 

New Scary Posts for Halloween!

Here are my best posts on Halloween:

 

  1. History of Halloween, NEW https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/astronomy-myths-and-legends/
  2. My exploration of the myths of Werewolves! https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/new-page-astronomy-myths-and-legends-new-wolf-moon-hooowl/ 
  3. Harvest Moons: https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/09/ 

Enjoy the Harvest Moon!

Harvest_moon

Tonight is the second night of the Harvest Moon, the time when the Moon rises earlier than ever before, right before the Autumnal Equinox.

 As I mentioned in “The Tale of the Lucky Red Moon,” Harvest Moons have a profound cultural significance. China has its own Mid Autumn Moon Festival that tries to unite cultures under one Moon. You can read about this in a wonderful article at Earthsky.org

So get out tonight and enjoy this rare Harvest Moon! I plan to take a few pictures with the telescope if it’s not too cloudy here at Primland.

Happy Stargazing!

Friday the 13th and astronomy

350px-Friday_the_13th_863Hello fello triscadecaphobs! In case you wonder what that big word means, it means “fear of Friday the 13th.” An estimated 17 million people fear this very day. There is actually a long and complicated history to the fear of this day, especialy in our own culture, and I set about trying to lay this fear to rest using my knowledge of history, mythology, and of course, astronomy.

Cultural/ Historical significance of Friday the 13th.

The number 13 itself is considered unlucky for a number of reasons, especially in Western Christianity- in the Bible the disciples and Jesus add up to 13, which eventually led to the betrayal and death of the leader, (which occured on a Friday). In addition, on October 13, 1307 the Pope ordered for the murder of the hallowed Knights Templar, the most powerful Christian knights in the world. 

The fear of Friday the 13th itself might have formally begun in the 19th century, with the death of Rossini, the celebrated composer of “The Barber of Seville.” On his death bed, the composer remarked that he always regarded Fridays and the number 13 as unlucky. As is often the case, this quote probably got repeated over and its influence multiplied into a whole superstition. By the way, wikipedia lists a number of famous people who have died on Friday the 13th, including Julia Child and Tupac Shakur.

So, what does this have to do with Astronomy?

Richard Beveridge, in his paper “Friday the 13th and the Mathematics of the Gregorian Calendar,” points out that there is an innate fear of Friday the 13th built into our culture from the fact that we base our time tables around the number 12- the 12 months of the year, the twelve signs of the zodiac, etc. This creates a feeling of otherness and other worldliness to the number 13. In addition, with the way we add leap years every four years, Friday the 13th occurs at random intervals, and it is very difficult to predict. Again, we fear things we can’t predict or control, which is why we fear even a date on the calendar.

Good news about Friday the 13th.

NASA recently predicted an asteroid would pass harmlessly over the Earth on Friday, April 13th, 2029. If this asteroid would pass too close, it could destroy an area the size of Texas! So I suppose you could say that some good things can come on Friday the 13th, even if they are things that don’t happen.

 

Well, that’s what I know about Friday the 13th. Hope some of your fears are allayed.

Happy Stargazing!

SUPER MOON MADNESS!

Tonight is the beginning of what astronomers call the Moon’s Perigee, the point in which the Moon is closest to the Earth. This means that tonight, the Moon will appear 12% bigger than usual!
Find out how to spot craters and

Not only is this the biggest Moon of the year, it’s also one of the most interesting. June 23rd’s full moon is classified as a “Strawberry Moon,” or “Rose Moon” It was called Strawberry by the Algonquin Native Americans because they knew this full moon was an ideal time to gather fruit. To learn more about this particular full moon, I’ve posted a link to a video created by the good folks at “The Farmer’s Almanac”, a trusted astronomy resource for over 100 years.

So I hope to see some of you down at Primland to look at this beautiful full moon. I know I’ll be training the telescope on it!

Happy Stargazing

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare

Today, I’d like to switch hats for a little while from Astro-nut to Shakespeare Geek. I’ve been studying Shakespeare for a long time and since today is his birthday, I thought I’d take some time to celebrate it. Like a lot of Elizabethans, Shakespeare believed that the stars and planets helped to influence a person’s destiny. Of course, he lived in the time of Galeleo and Copernicus who questioned these established opinions, and you can hear this changing tide of ideology in the dialogue of his plays. Plus, Shakespeare frequenly uses stellar images to add some extra spice to his love poetry. After all, who doesn’t want to be compared to the radient Venus, the brilliant stars, or the kingly Jupiter?

So today, I’d like to sojurn with you for a while away from the shores of science, and into the sweet waters of music and poetry related to the stars, with Shakespeare as the pilot for our vessel. Hope you enjoy it!

The Facts Are These:

  • Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1613, and died at the age of 52.
  • He wrote 37 surviving plays, 154 sonnets, and four epic poems.
  • The word “Stars” appears 77 times in Shakespeare’s work.
  • The god Jupiter appears as a character in one of his final plays, “Cymbeline”
  • In his tragedy “King Lear” an old lord worries about disasters called by eclipses and comets.
  • One of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Prospero, is a magician who uses the powers of astrology to control the elements.
  • Shakespeare was called “Sweet Swan Of Avon” by his contemporary Ben Johnson. The river Avon flowed through his home town of Stratford in Warrickshire. You can still see the swans today!

Some Famous Quotes From Shakespeare About Stars:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love. – Hamlet

Take him and cut him into little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun -Romeo and Juliet

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves – Julius Caesar

FOOL: The reason the seven stars are only seven is a pretty reason,

KING LEAR: Because they are not eight?

FOOL: Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool.

Shakespeare and Astrology

A diagram from the 17th century of the different planetary spheres and their influence on the four elements.

A diagram from the 17th century of the different planetary spheres and their influence on the four elements.

As I’ve mentioned in the “This Month In Astrology” posts, people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the planets and stars could influence a person’s desitny and their character. They believed that the universe contained four basic elements called humours, that were the forces behind the planets, the stars, and our bodies. The four humours corresponded to the four basic elements- Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. These humours reflected aspects of people’s personality- the cold and dry meloncholy, the warm and airy blood, the hot and fiery cholor, and the slow and temperate phlegm (the humour of water). Living in ballence with the planets, stars, and your own bodily humours was the best way to live a healthy life, so Shakespeare and his contemporaries studied the stars to figure out how to control and understand their lives. Queen Elizabeth herself had a pesronal astrologer who helped her get through the invasion of the Spanish Armada. A lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies focus on people whose destinies seem to be influenced by bad stars or planets. As I mentioned in “The Ides Of March” post, a bad planet or a comet could influence the fates of powerful people. Meanwhile, the comedies focus on people who let their humours take over them; from the melancholic Jaques to the foolish constable Dogberry, to the brave but idiotic Orlando, Shakespeare’s characters are at their funniest, when they are at their most “humourous.” In short, Shakespeare’s understanding of the humours and the stars allowed him to classify and examine different types of people, and how they deal with extrodinary situations. This is one reason we continue to read his work 400 years later.Finally, a little poetry reading. Here is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a short poem that’s only 14 lines long.

In this poem, the speaker rejects the doctrine of Astrology when looking into the face of his beloved, and instead claime that the only celestial light he needs is in the bleoved’s eyes. When those lights are gone, the universe as he knows it will end, so he advises the object of his affection to have children to allow those lights to renew. This is the format of the first 126 sonnets, but Shakespeare uses incredibly varied devices to make the same simple point.

So I hope this little sojourn into Shakespeare’s swan boat was entertaining for you and I hope combining my love of astronomy and Shakespeare will help you, the reader to appreaciate both even more.

Happy Stargazing,

Paul
“Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a postscript” – Twelfth Night

PS. If you liked this little exploration into stellar poetry, please leave a comment below. There is a rich vein of poetry related to the Sun, Moon, and stars, and I would love to write about them in future posts.

Updates For This Week 2/18- 2/24

Hi everyone,

I’m playing a little bit of catch up, since I spent yesterday enjoying my birthday, so here’s the topics I’ll be covering for the rest of the week:

Comparison in scale between planets of the solar system, and Kepler 37b (NASA- public domain)

Comparison in scale between planets of the solar system, and Kepler 37b (NASA- public domain)

 

 

 

Today In Space History: Today I’ve posted a brand new discovery of the extrasolar planet Kepler 37b- the smallest planet ever discovered! It’s only about the size of the moon, and orbits its closest star in less than a month.

 

Map of the zodiac constellations with Pisces emphasized.

Map of the zodiac constellations with Pisces emphasized.

 

 

 

This Month In Astrology: Pisces. My birthday, (like Copernicus’) falls on the zodiac sign Pisces, which runs from February 19th-March 20th. Tonight I’ll be writing some interesting details about my own star sign- the placement in the sky, the elements. and the dominant characteristics that a Piscean such as myself is supposed to have. I’ll also be writing a post where I’ll teach you to create your own horoscope!

Image of Taurus the Bull, taken from 15th century Norman astrology book.

Image of Taurus the Bull, taken from 15th century Norman astrology book.

 

 

 

 

Astronomy Myths and Legends: Taurus Right now, the Moon and the planet Jupiter are right in the eye of the constellation Taurus the Bull. I thought I’d give you guys some insight into this zodiac constellation, and the somewhat curious myth that spawned it.

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, listens during a meeting of the council at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, listens during a meeting of the council at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.

 

 

 

 

Special Post (Today In Space History) Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of the greatest astrophysicists of our time, and director of the Heyden Planetarium.

 

 

Asteroid DA 14, which will pass the Earth at a distance of about 17,000 miles February 15th.

Asteroid DA 14, which will pass the Earth at a distance of about 17,000 miles February 15th.

Special Post- How to Survive an Asteroid Impact!

Enjoy all this as the week goes on!

-Paul

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Ursa Major, otherwise known as The Big Dipper

Ursa Major, otherwise known as The Big Dipper

Hi everyone!

Since it is Black History Month, I wanted to talk about a constellation that plays a very important part of African American history; the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. During the time around the Civil War, runaway slaves used this group of stars to help find their way to the free states.

The constellation Ursa Minor has the star Polaris at the end of its handle. Polaris is a circumpolar star, meaning it is always over the North Pole

The constellation Ursa Minor has the star Polaris at the end of its handle. Polaris is a circumpolar star, meaning it is always over the North Pole

At the end of the handle of the Little Dipper lies Polaris, a star that is always directly over the North Star. This means you can find north, by following the cup of the big dipper, to the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.

Circumpolar stars, or stars that revolve around the North Pole.

Circumpolar stars, or stars that revolve around the North Pole.

Most ancient star charts imagine all the other stars and constellations revolving around Polaris as in this picture. The practical upshot is that, using the North Star as a guide, the runaway slaves could flee to the northern states, as long as they kept their plans secret, which is why their secret plans were encoded into the lyrics of a famous African-American song, “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” Scholars debate how often the song was actually used for real slave smuggling, but it remains a poignant testament to the courage and ingenuity of the brave men and women who fought to find their freedom in a time of injustice.

Part of the genius of “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” is that the lyrics were completely innocuous. If a slave were singing the song to his children, there’s nothing in the lyrics that give it away directly as instructions on how to escape to the north. Below is a video of the song with the lyrics to the right:

 

Follow The Drinkin’ Gourd- Lyrics
When the sun comes back and the first quail calls,
Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the Drinking Gourd.

The river bank is a very good road                                     Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd                                                    The dead trees show the way,                                                 Left foot, peg foot goin’ on,

Follow the drinkin’ gourd.

The river ends between two hills,                                     Follow the Drinkin’ GourdAnother river on the other side                                                Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd                                                        When the little river                                                                   Meets the great big one, the old man waits– Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd.

According to legend, the “old man” was an Underground Railroad conductor called Peg Leg Joe, who would take the slaves from Alabama and Mississippi the rest of the way to free states. The lyrics detail the path up to the Tombigbee River, (which runs through Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Georgia), up to the Ohio River Valley. You can view an interactive map of this journey here, but in the meantime, here’s a map with an explanation of how the lyrics worked to direct the slaves from Alabama and Mississippi up north.

UndergroundRR-Map

The lyrics indicate that the slaves were to follow the Tombigbee river north, over the hills, where it meets the Tennessee River. From there, Peg Leg Joe would conduct the slaves over to the Ohio River, and from there on to to the free states!

So there’s a little insight into how astronomy is more than just a study of stars and planets, it’s part of history and a time-tested measurement of time and distance. Next week, I’ll delve more into the mythology and scientific history of this constellation as it relates to other cultures in addition to our own.

Till next time,

Paul

New POW: The Dog Star Sirus

Be sure to visit today’s Picture of the Week page to see the brightest star in the sky, Sirius the Dog-star.