Blog Archives

New Scary Posts for Halloween!

Here are my best posts on Halloween:


  1. History of Halloween, NEW
  2. My exploration of the myths of Werewolves! 
  3. Harvest Moons: 

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,

“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.

Star Master Weekend Recap- Dr. Richard Obousy

So, I know I’m really late on this, but I wanted to give a very warm thank you to Dr. Richard Obousy for agreeing to come down to Primland last week, and talk about his company Icarus Interstellar. Here are a few notes I took during his presentation.

Part 1- Background On Dr. Obousy, and the Icarus Project

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus International.

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar.

Dr. Obousy has had a longstanding interest in space travel and physics. He holds a Ph.D in theoretical physics, and worked for the UK Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) as a radar physicist from 1999-2002. He currently works as president of Icarus Interstellar, and Founder and Manager of CitizenShipper LLC. Dr. Obousy has written for over 15 peer-reviewed publications, and appeared on such television and radio programs as the History Channel series “The Universe,”
Icarus Intersellar is nonprofit, 70 volunteer group with the goal of creating spacecraft that can fly beyond our solar system, and reach closest stars by the year 2100. The team comes from all over the world, pooling research over the internet. The group was started in 2009, as an outgrowth of Project Daedalus, a project begun in 1973 by the British Interplanetary Society.

The project is split into 20 modules designed to plan out every stage of development, propulsion, and communication within the 100 year time span. On the project’s website, readers can download a complete report on the project, and learn about updates.

What’s wrong with our current spacecraft technology?

The underside of a space shuttle rocket.

The underside of a space shuttle rocket.

According to Dr. Obousy, the space shuttle can go 6 km per second, which means it could reach Pluto in 23 years, but would take thousands of years to go to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. This is simply not fast enough to get past our solar system, and begin to actually touch the cosmos. Dr. Obousy, (and the crew at Icarus Interstellar) then touched on some of the potential benefits of superior space travel, such as mining for natural resources, and finding life on Mars, or Jupiter’s moon Europa. He cited the fact that data from the Curiosity and Viking spacecraft about life on these worlds is actually inconclusive! There might actually still be life in our solar system for us to still discover.

Although SETI (the Search For Extra-terrestial Intelligence) is currently scanning the skies for ET, Dr. Obousy feels that the “fleeting epoch of radio telescopes,” is no guarantee of success. Based on the findings from the Kepler Space Telescope, there may be over 400 billion planets in Milky Way, of those there might be as many as 100 billion Earth-like worlds. Dr. Obousy asserts that just because it is very difficult to locate extra-terrestrials, does not mean that they aren’t there.

How Project Icarus is Different From Current Spaceships.

Most of Project Icarus is devoted to using fusion power, rather than chemical energy, which, (if the project can perfect the process), could yield more than 10 million times more energy than the current design.

Why Did they Choose the Name “Icarus”?

"The Fall Of Icarus," 17th Century engraving by  Musée Antoine Vivenel.

“The Fall Of Icarus,” 17th Century engraving by Musée Antoine Vivenel.

For those of you who don’t know Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the great engineer Daedalus, who created a pair of wax wings to give himself and his son the ability to fly. Unfortunately, the boy was so excited by this new power, and flew too close to the Sun, melting his wings, and sending the boy plummeting to his death. Understandably, this tragic story might seem like an odd source for the name of a company that designs space ships, but Dr. Obousy explains that, despite the outcome, Icarus, “pushed technology to its limits to discover hidden flaws,” which is how the story becomes one of the mantras to inspire the team.

Icarus is hopeful that they may some day create new technology that would allow us to travel at light speed, by dilebrerately warping space and time to travel through space at speeds that are unimaginable right now. Dr. Obousy cited many physicists that back up the idea that space time is not limited by light speed, and that there are natural sources of power such as dark energy and solar photons, that could be harnessed to propel spacecraft, (though at present, the energy required would be considerable to say the least). In the video above, you can get a glimpse of how Dr. Obousy suggested using such phenomena as the Casimir effect, and its ability to control dark energy as a sort of warp drive, using real scientific principles.

The Icarus Program is still fraught with challenges- monetary, resources, time, and of course the seemingly impossible difficulties creating real life interstellar vehicles, but Dr. Obousey and his team from Icarus Interstellar remain hopeful that “If we throw down the gauntlet, (i.e. challenging the members of his group), we will rise to the challenge like we did in the Apollo program,” which would allow us to take another great step in the field of science, and ultimately the human race.

Once again, I have to thank Dr. Obousy for his inspiring talk, and hope that he will visit Primland again soon!

Happy Stargazing!

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!


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.

Super BOWL and RAVEN, in the sky!

Corvus_et_Crater_-_MercatorHey everyone,

With the big game tonight, I find it somewhat ironic that right now, there is a constellation shaped like a Raven, pursuing another constellation shaped like a great cup! Is this a good omen for Baltimore? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so!

Anyway, in the spirit of the Super Bowl, I thought I’d tell this bizarre story behind Corvus (the Raven), and Cratus (the Cup).


According to Ian Ridpath, author of Star Tales, (which is an incredible book and website devoted to myths and legends about astronomy,) there was an ancient raven called Corvus whom the Greek god Apollo entrusted to find water from a running spring. The bird however disobeyed the god and chose to just go after some figs instead. Then it snatched a water snake, Hydra in its talons to bring back to Apollo. Corvus’ plan was to claim that it got detained by the snake and was unable to find the water, however…. APOLLO’s A GOD, and one who has the gift of prophesy, so needless to say… the plan didn’t work. Apollo punished the raven Corvus by placing a Greek water bowl called a Krater just out of its reach, making the bird perpetually thirsty. In addition, Apollo placed the snake Hydra just under the bird. Basically, he threw them away.

So I guess the moral to the story for football fans is, keep your eyes on the prize. Good luck Ravens!


By the way, for those of you who want to see the constellation of Corvus, here’s a helpful video to locate it:
Till next time,


New Page- Astronomy Myths and Legends- New Wolf Moon…HOOOWL!

Hi subscribers,

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve created a new post for the Astronomy Myths and Legends page, in honor of the Full Wolf Moon that’s going on tonight. That’s right, it’s a Full Wolf Moon according to the Algonquin Native American calendar. Since the name conjures up images of werewolves and howling and Jacob from Twilight, I wrote a new post about the myths and legends surrounding full moons for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

New Pages- Today In Space History and Astronomy Myths and Legends: The Seven Sisters

Orion Spacecraft (artist's rendering)

Orion Spacecraft (artist’s rendering)

Hello Loyal Readers and Subscribers!

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve added a new page devoted to Astronomy History as well as current developments in the Space Program called “Today in Space History” At least once a week, I’m going to comb the web and the history books and report on new developments in space exploration as they develop. When nothing’s new, I’ll give you some info on history- recalling what happened on this very day in history, with facts on everything from the first chimp in space, to the discovery of gravity by Isaac Newton. In short, This new page is about space exploration- not only what’s going on now, but also the many discoveries, experiments, successes, and failures that made it possible.

My first post is about how NASA is celebrating the inauguration of President Obama, with a week long program of open houses, free stargazing tours, and discussions about the future of NASA with astronomers and astronauts. Here’s a taste of what I found:

For more titillating posts, please visit “Today In Space History”

Also, sit tight, tonight I’ll be coming out with an all new “Astronomy Myths and Legends” post, about the Pleiades, (or the Seven Sisters as it’s also called), one of the most beautiful star clusters in the night sky.


Hope this piques your interest, and see you later!


This is the Dawning of the (Sign) of Aquarius

Hi there!

Today is the beginning of the astrological star sign Aquarius, the sign made popular in the Broadway show “Hair.” Incidentally, the Age of Aquarius might not happen for hundreds of years (but more on that another time). In the meantime, I thought with a new star sign, I’d like to write a little bit about Astrology, and explain generally what it is, and what it means to you.

What is Astrology?

Astrology is the non-scientific study of stars and planets that promises to determine the future, specifically the influence of the planets and stars upon a person’s personality, and the forces that effect their lives.

The central idea rests around the motion of the planets.

  • Why is astrology based around the motions of the planets?
    • Artist's conception of the Crystal Spheres.

      Artist’s conception of the Crystal Spheres.

      Ancient peoples studied the motions of the planets and noticed that, although the stars appear to follow a fixed path, the planets have a very unique path. First, the planets seem to move in two different directions: direct motion where they follow the rotation of the Earth, and retrograde motion, where the

    •  In fact, the ancient view of the universe was to believe that the whole sky was attached to the earth in a massive Chrystal sphere, and the planets rotated around the Earth in separate spheres above the Earth (see above right).
    • Since the planets have a motion all their own, civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans believed that they had special powers, which is why our planets are named after Roman gods.
    • Wheel of the zodiac on a 6th century mosaic pavement in a synagogue in Beit Alpha, Israel.

      Wheel of the zodiac on a 6th century mosaic pavement in a synagogue in Beit Alpha, Israel.

      Ancient astronomers discovered that the planets and the sun all move along the same 30 degree line across the sky. The sun’s path is called the Ecliptic, but the planet’s path is called the Zodiac.

    • Along the zodiac are 13 constellations that the planets pass through, and twelve of these constellations are the ones that we assign to be a person’s sign at the time they were born.  On the left is an ancient image of the 12 astrology signs.




“Stars that smiled at my nativity”

L'Homme anatomique ou L'Homme zodiacal, illustration from 1411. Museum Cond`ee.

L’Homme anatomique ou L’Homme zodiacal, illustration from 1411. Museum Cond`ee.

Each star sign has a dominant planet, the planet that passed through the star sign. If you were born under a particular sign, you took on the qualities of the dominant planet. For example, Mars the god of War would give you an aggressive temperament, while Venus, goddess of love would give you a loving mood. Star signs were also thought to predict people’s romantic compatibility, and even what diseases they might have. In fact, the word “influenza” or the flu, comes from the same word “influence,” meaning controlling power. Diseases and planetary influence were linked in the mind of ancient peoples. If you follow the “This Month In Astrology” page, I’ll tell you plenty about the qualities that people born under Aquarius were supposed to have.

So you can see that astrology is more than just a pseudo-science you read about in the newspaper, it’s also a window into understanding the ancient world.

So there’s a short background on the purposes of Astrology. I’ll be bringing you more in-depth info later this week. Hope you enjoyed this post, and look forward to many more!

New Page uploaded!

Hi Everyone,

I’ve added a new page called “Astronomy Myths and Legends,” where I give you some research on the myths and stories associated with a particular planet, star, or constellation. Today I’ve posted a few myths and legends on Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, the brightest star in the sky! Hope you enjoy it: