Starstruck Tonight (Spring and Summer)

What follows is the text of Starstruck Tonight, the Spring and Summer sky version, the sequel to my first and favorite planetarium show produced when I directed the OBU Planetarium. This summer I’ll make a renewed effort to recover takes of some of the different paragraphs below. So with a lot of luck, and with the help of Robin Noad and the Fine Art Media Resource Center, maybe we can extract some of the audio narration from the old Foster RD-8’s. If so, I will revise these posts here with audio files, and with images indicating the visuals corresponding to each paragraph in the text. Can these voices live again?

Candace Magruder narrated the show. If you were one of the many readers of the quotations, would you please drop me a line so that I can include a “Voice of…” credit after each quotation? Or let me know if you remember who read any particular quote. Please also let me know if you worked in the planetarium during the time when we wrote or produced this show. Thanks!

—–

A planetarium is a magical place, brought to life by the odd-looking machine you see in the center of the room. That complicated device is a star projector, which places images of the stars, Sun, Moon, and planets on the dome overhead, just as they would appear at night from anywhere on Earth, on any day of the year, at any time past, present, or future. In a very real sense, then, the planetarium is a time machine, and as we tour the sky as it appears tonight we shall also travel back in time to hear some ancient stories of the stars.

In modern times it is possible to live one’s life without ever really noticing the stars. Although we stay up later than ever before, our roofs, street lights, televisions, and Oklahoma haze conspire to hide the enchantments of the night sky. Carlyle spoke for all of us when he lamented…

“Why did not somebody teach me the constellations, and make me at home in the starry heavens, which are always overhead, and which I don’t half-know to this day?”
(Voice of Bill Mitchell)

Generations have turned their eyes heavenward and made the starry vault a regular part of their lives, patterning earthly affairs after the symmetry and order of the stars. The medieval Islamic astronomer Al-Biruni observed:

“He whose roof is heaven, who has no other cover, over whom the stars continually rise and set in one and the same course, makes the beginnings of his affairs and his knowledge of time depend upon them.”
(Voice of Mark Hemric)

The night sky, the common heritage of humanity, need not be a stranger to us. Lord Byron wrote that the stars were the “poetry of heaven”:

“The night hath been to me a more familiar face than that of man,
and in her starry shade of dim and solitary loveliness,
I learned the language of another world.”
(Voice of Micah DeLeón)

With Longfellow may we come to say:

“Night interpreted to me
all its grace and mystery.”

Circumpolar Constellations

Ursa Major or the Big Bear is the third largest of the 88 constellations.

Seven stars form a familiar group of stars, or an “asterism” within the constellation.

In America they are called the “Big Dipper” or “Drinking Gourd,” and in Britain the “Plough” or the “Wain.”

The Big Dipper is one of the most easily recognizable groups of stars in the sky. It is referred to as circumpolar because it never completely sets below the horizon, but is visible in northern skies year-round.

Three stars make up the Big Dipper’s handle, and four stars make its bowl.

Look at the second star from the end of the dipper’s handle…

Look closely, and you may see two stars, Alcor and Mizar (Migh-zar), which are also known as the Horse and Rider.

According to the Greeks, the second star is one of the Pleiades sisters, who left her six sisters in the constellation Taurus (TORE-us) when she married. Mizar, the brightest of the two, is visible as a double star in a large telescope. Interestingly, from spectroscopic evidence it is known that both components of Mizar are each double stars as well, so that there are actually four stars in Mizar, which along with Alcor make five stars in this single system.

If you can find the Big Dipper in the sky, you have a skymark to orient yourself both on the Earth and in the Heavens.

The two stars that form the pouring side of the bowl point to Polaris, the north star. Polaris is a rather faint star about five times farther away than the distance between the pointers themselves, and marks the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper.

The Big and Little Dippers pour into each other, just as the Big Bear and the Little Bear ceaselessly turn around and around the northern sky.

The Guard stars of the Little Dipper protect Polaris from the Great Bear, just in case he might try to catch the North Star for himself.

Only the most imaginative can see a bear in the area of the Big Dipper. His nose is located… here.

There are many star-patterns that look like dippers, triangles, or squares in the sky. There are very few that actually resemble bears or people. Yet constellations were named to honor particular figures in ancient stories, not because the star pattern actually looked like the figure being honored. It took imagination to invent them a long time ago, and it takes imagination to see them now.

The “handles” of the dippers represent the “tails” of the bears on ancient star maps—even though modern bears don’t have long tails! The Big Bear was regarded as a bear before Homer, and an ancient Greek story explains why the Big and Little Bears have such long tails.

A long time ago, Zeus fell in love with a mortal woman named Callisto, who was a far-traveler and a huntress. In jealousy Hera, the wife of Zeus, changed Callisto into a large bear. In a forest one day, Callisto’s son Arcas chanced upon a huge bear. To his horror, the bear immediately started to run straight toward him. Not perceiving that the bear was his mother, Arcas raised his javelin to slay the bear. Zeus saw the tragedy that was about to happen, but not even Zeus could undo the spell of Hera. The only alternative was to change Arcas into a bear like Callisto, only smaller. To keep them safely together, and to make them immortal, Zeus grabbed both bears by their tails, swung them around and around, and hurled them into the sky. So much swinging stretched out their tails. Yet Hera had the last word, moving them to the part of the sky which never sets. There Callisto and Arcas now endure a weariness without rest until the end of the world.
(Voice of Debbie Blue)

Finding Latitude

From ancient times sailors have known that the altitude of Polaris above the horizon is the same as one’s latitude on Earth. Our latitude in Shawnee is 35 degrees north, and we find Polaris 35 degrees above the northern horizon. Similarly, to sail west at a constant latitude Columbus kept the north star at a constant altitude above the horizon.

You can learn, as did ancient sailors and western cowhands on the night watch, to tell the time of the night by the position of the Big Dipper. Due to the daily rotation of the earth, the dipper rotates around the north star every twenty four hours.

As the night hours pass and the Earth turns on its axis, the stars turn in circles around Polaris, which appears to stand still.

Some constellations are close enough to Polaris that they never set below the horizon. These are the circumpolar stars.

Most stars are farther away from Polaris, and fall below the horizon. These appear to rise in the east, cross overhead, and set in the west, much like the Sun.

“Constellations come,
and climb the heavens, and go,
And thou dost see them rise,
Star of the Pole!
and thou dost see them set,
Alone, in thy cold skies,
Thou keep’st thy old unmoving station yet.”
(Voice of Margaret Allen)

The Story of Andromeda

Trace an imaginary line from the Big Bear’s pointers on past Polaris. At an equal distance on the opposite side from the Big Dipper is Cassiopeia (KASS-ee-oh-Pay-uh), an ancient Queen of Ethiopia.

As she sits on her W-shaped throne she circles round and round the pole. Like the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia is circumpolar and therefore visible no matter what the season or time of night.

In 1572 a star in Cassiopeia that previously was too faint to see flared up as bright as Venus, remaining for about a year and a half, first white and then reddish in color, before fading away. Observed by many at the time, it has become known as Tycho’s (TEE-koze) nova, after the Danish astronomer and alchemist Tycho Brahe (BRA-hee), arguably the foremost observational astronomer of that era.

Another circumpolar constellation is the Ethiopian king, Cepheus (SEE-fee-us). He sits atop the Milky Way on a throne near his queen Cassiopeia. The legs and seat of his throne make a rough square.

The back of the seat comes to a point at the top above his head.

Farther along on the line from the Pointers to Polaris and Cassiopeia is a large, nearly perfect square of four stars. This is the Great Square of Pegasus. Pegasus, the Winged Horse, lies almost directly overhead in autumn.

Sharing one corner with the Great Square of Pegasus is Andromeda (An-DRAW-ma-duh), the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia.

Andromeda’s dress flows outward from the corner along three pairs of stars, with each pair slightly farther apart than the previous pair. Perhaps she is petting Pegasus, who bore the hero Perseus across the ocean on his mighty wings to save her from the sea monster.

On one side of her dress is a wedding present from Perseus, a patch of light called M31 or the Andromeda galaxy.

This beautiful spiral galaxy is the most distant object visible to the naked eye, over 2 million light years away.

Our own Milky Way galaxy runs across the sky like a shining river of light. The Milky Way was described with a painter’s eye by Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo:

“One night I went for a walk by the sea along the empty shore. It was not gay, but neither was it sad—it was—beautiful. The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a blue deeper than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. In the blue depth the stars were sparkling—greenish, yellow, white, rose—brighter; flashing more like jewels than they do at home . . . opals you might call them; emeralds, lapis, rubies, sapphires.”
(Voice of Ben Randell)

Some people do not realize that the Milky Way galaxy includes more than this narrow band of bright stardust. Actually, all of the stars visible to the naked eye, in every part of the sky, belong to the Milky Way galaxy. We view it from within, and it surrounds us on every side.

It was not easy for astronomers to understand what a galaxy looks like. Early viewers of the Andromeda galaxy did not imagine that it was a star system like our own. Christian Huygens (HOY-gens) thought it was a hole in the heavens through which we might peer into the luminous regions beyond. Edmond Halley (rhymes with “valley”) agreed, suggesting that the light came from a region of perpetual day, a shining ether filled with the light that originated on the first day of creation, before the formation of the Sun, Moon and stars.

In the 18th century Thomas Wright argued that the Milky Way is caused by a large-scale grouping of stars, and that the various cloudy patches in the sky might be many other such star groupings in the universe. He tried to understand how the stars of different galaxies might be arranged, and how they would appear if we could see them from the outside.

Perhaps galaxies were shaped like the rings of Saturn?

Or formed like giant bubbles?

We then would see many stars while looking along the edge of our bubble, but fewer stars while looking outward or toward the center.

Or perhaps galaxies might be caused by giant spheres of stars nested one within another?

According to Wright, each star system contained a supernatural “divine center,” around which the system revolved, which prevented it from collapsing inward under the force of gravitational attraction.

Wright called these sketches “finite views of infinity” and “partial views of immensity.” For Thomas Wright, one thing was sure: the greatness of the systems of stars was a physical expression of the majesty and omnipotence of the divine Creator.

Today astronomers believe that if we could see it whole and from the outside, the Milky Way galaxy would look much like the Andromeda galaxy. Our Milky Way is a giant star wheel 100 light-years across, with a thick bulge in the middle like a hub. No one knows what might lie within this bulge, but some astronomers suspect it may be a supermassive black hole.

Our Sun is located about two-thirds of the way out from the center, where the starwheel is not very thick. Except for the cloudy patch of light in Andromeda, all of the stars visible to our naked eyes are part of this single star-wheel system, the Milky Way galaxy.

When we look toward the river of light we are looking either in toward the center of the star wheel or out toward its rim. When we look toward the region of the Big Dipper we are looking up out of the star wheel, and therefore see fewer stars.

If we could fly on the magic wings of Pegasus to the Andromeda galaxy and see it from within, the Andromedan sky would look much the same as our own, with star patterns on all sides and a river of light circling around. Of course, none of those stars would be the same stars we see from here. Theirs is a different galaxy, a starwheel even larger than our own.

If we know what to look for, we can find many galaxies in the sky, far more distant than Andromeda. In the area of Ursa Major near the Big Dipper are two remarkable galaxies, both of which are too far away to view without a telescope.

M81 is a classic spiral galaxy we see almost face-on, about the same size as the Milky Way, beautiful in its graceful repose.

In contrast, M82, seen edge-on, may have experienced a titanic explosion. No one knows for sure, but M81 and M82 are wrapped in a common envelope of dust. Perhaps the passing of M81, which is almost ten times larger, has left the smaller M82 disrupted in its wake.

For ten days in December of 1995 the Hubble Space Telescope collected light from a blank spot of sky, devoid of naked-eye stars, just above the bowl of the Big Dipper. This project, known as the Hubble Deep Field survey, covered an area of the sky about one-twenty-fourth of a degree wide, no larger than a grain of sand held at arm’s length.

Within this tiny spot of sky, beyond the reach of earth-bound telescopes, were brought into view over fifteen-hundred galaxies, four billion times fainter than the limits of human vision. This snapshot of the Big Bang’s galactic baby boom discloses galaxies in an astonishing plenitude and variety. There are spirals and ellipticals and bar-shaped galaxies, the same familiar galactic types seen in galaxies nearer to us. Many are colliding, some interacting or exchanging their material. Many are seen edge-on; many face-on; and many from every angle in between. Their stars are colored blue, yellow, and orange. Their light has travelled to us across eons of time from the remotest parts of the known universe.

We are encircled by galaxies upon galaxies and the infinite immensities of uncharted skies.

With this new window into the heavens our hearts stir, echoing the words of Ptolemy, the great astronomer of antiquity:

“I know that I am mortal and living but a day.
Yet when I search for the numerous turning spirals of the stars,
I no longer have my feet on the Earth,
But am beside God himself,
filling myself with divine ambrosia.”
(Voice of David Carter)

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their music goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”
(Voice of Marty Peercy)

“O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?”
(Voice of Ben Randell)

To the Hebrews, the greatness of the heavens taught not of God’s remoteness, but of the power and glory by which his presence may affect our lives.

“To whom, then, will you compare God?”
“Who are you
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens?
I who stretched out the heavens
say ‘You are my people.’”
(Voice of Marty Peercy)

Arcturus and Boötes

Skywatchers have long-repeated the catch-phrase “Arc to Arcturus” (Arc-TUR-us). Follow the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle to the fourth brightest star in the sky. Arcturus belongs to the ancient constellation Boötes (BOW-oh-tees). Boötes is a herdsman, or shepherd, and was mentioned by Homer.

Some prefer to see Boötes as an ice cream cone.

Just to one side lies Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown…

With bright Gemma (“Jemma”) in its center, like a second scoop of ice cream that melted and fell off the top.

Arcturus moves across the sky against the background of the other stars. This “proper” motion was discovered by Edmond Halley in 1717, and shows that the so-called fixed stars are not completely fixed in their relative positions. You can’t see Arcturus move on any given night, but it is slowly passing by the Sun, and is scheduled to disappear from our sky in just half a million years.

In March of 1996 many North Americans watched something else move past Arcturus: the comet Hyakutake (YAH-koo-TAH-kee). When first visible, Hyakutake was near Arcturus, and from night to night it gradually passed between the Dippers before falling below our horizon at the end of April.

No one knows when or where the next comet will be discovered. If you are a skywatcher, perhaps it will bear your name.

Two men have already discovered a giant comet now speeding toward us, which may turn out even more spectacular than Comet Hyakutake. Comet Hale-Bopp should arrive in March 1997, almost on the anniversary of Comet Hyakutake. Optimistic astronomers believe it will appear one hundred times brighter than Halley’s Comet.

Spica and Virgo

Now, let’s continue past Arcturus on the curve from the Dipper’s handle. To “Speed on to Spica,” go the same distance as it took to reach Arcturus. If it’s not below the horizon, Spica is the brightest star of the constellation Virgo the Maiden.

Although Virgo is the second largest constellation in the sky, the rest of its stars are faint. However, if you see a bright star nearby, don’t be surprised: it will be a visiting planet as it wanders around the sky.

Virgo was long ago recognized for its importance, since it contains the Sun on the day of the Autumn Equinox. Spica lies nearly on the path the Sun follows across the sky, which is called the ecliptic. You won’t see this constellation in the early autumn, for then Virgo lies in the daytime sky. Point out Scorpius, tail and stinger

East of Virgo along the ecliptic is the constellation Scorpius, with his menacing tail below, and stinger above.

The Romans cut off the scorpion’s claws to make the constellation Libra the Balance.

Continue eastward along the ecliptic to the next constellation, Sagittarius the Archer. Sagittarius was a Centaur, the wise Chiron (KIGH-ron), teacher of Hercules and brave in battle. If you cannot see a creature half-man and half-horse in these stars, then try looking for a teapot.

Four stars make the pot. Two stars form a handle. One star is a lid. And the tip of the bowman’s arrow makes a spout.

If you look right where tea would pour out of the spout, you are looking toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The sky in this direction is filled with stars.

Scan it with binoculars, and you will see cluster after cluster of stars, rising like little clouds of steam above the teapot.

The brightest star in Sagittarius this summer is not a star, but the greatest of wandering planets, Jupiter. Look for Jupiter near the handle of the teapot.

The largest of planets, Jupiter has more than twice the mass of all other planets combined. Its gravitational attraction perturbs the motions of other planets. Like a small sun, Jupiter radiates more energy than it absorbs.
(Voice of Rachel Magruder)

A person weighing 100 pounds on Earth would weigh 230 pounds on Jupiter.
(Voice of Hannah Magruder)

Despite having a diameter about 12 times larger than the Earth, Jupiter’s day is shorter: it rotates in less than ten hours. Since Jupiter is farther away from the Sun, a Jovian year is longer than ours: Jupiter takes about 12 Earth-years to revolve around the Sun.

For early modern Europeans, Jupiter epitomized the festive prosperity of a great King at peace. They believed that his prominence in the sky portended the best of times, and called him Fortuna Major. Dante made Jupiter’s sphere the heavenly abode of rulers who are just and wise.
(Voice of Rachel Magruder)

But not always has Jupiter seemed so serene and at peace. The great red spot is a giant storm more than twice the size of the Earth. This furious hurricane has persisted at least 300 years and shows no sign of subsiding yet.

In the summer of 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 slammed into Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. Many scientists believe that a cometary impact upon the Earth triggered a mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs. These scientists were able to observe a similar impact happening right before their eyes on Jupiter. Yet the great and
magnanimous Jupiter retained his regal tranquility. It is now two years later, and the impact has left little trace. The bands of Jupiter are not disturbed.

If seen with the Sun shining from behind, Jupiter appears enveloped by a very thin ring, made of microscopic dust the size of smoke particles.
(Voice of Hannah Magruder)

In the spring of 1996 a space probe descended through Jupiter’s atmosphere. It was named for Galileo, whose telescope first disclosed the four largest satellites of Jupiter. The Galileo probe has provided astronomers with a wealth of data. Some of the early results have been quite unexpected, which is exciting for Jovian specialists as they try to better understand this king of planets.

Regulus and Leo

Let’s return to the bowl of the Big Dipper. A line running through the two stars nearest the handle points almost directly to two other notable stars. Follow them below the bowl of the Dipper to Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion.

Leo’s mane looks like a backward question mark.

Regulus, the “dot” at the bottom of the mark, lies nearly on the ecliptic.

To the east of Leo is the constellation Coma Berenices (KOH-ma Bear-uhn-EE-chayz), which pictures the braided hair streaming down from the back of Berenice’s head.

Looking in the direction of Coma Berenices and Virgo we gaze upon a “field of nebula” containing thousands of galaxies. The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are lonely stragglers millions of light years away from these giant clusters. If we were situated within any one of these galaxies, hundreds of neighboring galaxies would be visible in the sky as luminous balls of light brighter than the brightest stars visible here on Earth.

One gigantic galaxy known as M87 contains 30 times as many stars as the Milky Way. It is closely attended by thousands of smaller clusters of stars. It may appear peaceful and serene in a small telescope, but its radio and x-ray emissions are enormous. Large telescopes reveal jets of material hurtling outward and rotating within, perhaps associated with a massive black hole at its center.

The Sombrero galaxy, M104, we see nearly edge-on, with its giant bulge rotating around the center. A huge black hole is believed to be hidden within this rare and wonderful cocoon of shining stars.

Deneb and Cygnus

Going back to the Big Dipper, trace away from it above the open bowl. This line runs to Deneb, the tail of the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

With wings abreast, and long neck outstretched, Cygnus flies along the milky river. One legend relates that the swan was the hero Orpheus, who enchanted all who heard him with his magic harp.

Cygnus is also known as the Northern Cross, and around Christmas Eve at sunset it stands upright on the northwest horizon.

Deneb (DEN-ebb) is a bluish-white supergiant, one of the most luminous stars known. Because it is so far away, Deneb is only the 20th brightest star in the sky. But if Deneb were as near to us as Sirius, which we see as the brightest star, then it would shine as brightly as the Moon. If Deneb were as close to us as Alpha-Centauri, we could read by its light.

Albireo (al-BEER-ee-oh), the beak of the swan, is one of the most beautiful of all double stars. In close proximity, one of the star-pair shines with a brilliant gold, and the other with a sapphire blue.

Below the central star of Cygnus are clumps of stars that form the Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

Our Sun is located on the inside edge of the Cygnus Arm, about two-thirds of the way out from the galactic center.

As we look toward the body of the swan, in the bright section of the Milky Way between Deneb and Albireo, we are sighting along the very arm in which we are placed. Behind us, this spiraling arm contains the stars of Orion, and eventually reaches the outskirts of the galaxy. Before us, as we gaze toward our neighboring stars in Cygnus, the arm spirals down toward the center of the galaxy.

In a very real sense, then, our lives are closely linked with the stars of Cygnus. As Francis Thompson wrote:

“All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
Hiddenly
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without the troubling of a star.”
(Voice of Debbie Blue)

Video: Paul Kaplan

A small, massive object orbits a giant blue star near the center of Cygnus. Discovered in 1965 and known as Cygnus X-1, it cannot be seen with optical telescopes, but it emits intense, flickering x-rays. Most astronomers believe that Cygnus X-1 is a black hole. Matter from the bluish companion star spirals down toward the black hole, emitting x-rays as it reaches the boundary and disappears inside the black hole forever.

Deneb and two other bright stars form the “summer triangle,” an asterism found high overhead all summer long amid the splendid sweep of the Milky Way.

The bright star Altair (ALL-tare) lies in the constellation Aquila the Eagle, which was a servant of Zeus.

Altair means “the flying one,” and Altair flies around its axis once every 6 and a half hours. Astronomers calculate that because of this rapid rotation, it must be twice as wide at its equator as at its poles.

The summer triangle consists of Deneb… Altair… and bluish Vega. Vega is the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere, closely rivaling Arcturus. Vega means Swooping Eagle in Arabic. It soars almost directly overhead in summer, while the bright stars of winter nights are hidden almost directly beneath our feet.

Vega is in the constellation Lyra the Harp. This is the lyre which belonged to Orpheus according to the Greeks, or to King Arthur according to English legend. Look for a small parallelogram of stars near Vega which forms the frame of the harp.

Shakespeare tells us that when Orpheus would play his lyre:

“everything that heard him play,
even the billows of the sea,
hung their heads, and then lay by.”

In the late 18th century, Charles Messier (MESS-ee-ay) catalogued all the cloudy patches he could find in the sky so that he would not mistake them for comets.

A cloudy patch in Lyra was the 57th nebula listed in his catalog.

M57, now known as the Ring Nebula, appears like a little smoke ring peacefully wafting through the starry night. However, this doughnut of glowing hydrogen gas, speaks of the violent explosion of the outer layers of a once massive star. Near the center of the ring, only its hot bluish core remains intact.

A slow wobble in the Earth’s daily rotation causes the Earth’s north pole to trace a circle among the stars every 26,000 years. Because of this motion, called precession, the star nearest the pole is not always the same. Architects of the great Egyptian pyramid used Thuban (TOO-bahn), a star in the constellation Draco the Dragon, for their north star.

Polaris, the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle, currently lies within three-quarters of a degree from the polar point, and will reach its closest proximity—under half a degree—in the year 2102 AD. No matter where you are in the northern hemisphere, when you face Polaris you are facing north. Polaris now points northward more accurately than a magnetic compass.

In 14,000 years Vega will become the pole star. This extremely slow but steady cycle of precession was discovered around 150 B.C by the ancient astronomer Hipparchos. Hipparchos combined the qualitative geometrical systems of the Greeks with the quantitative astronomy of the Babylonians, whose ancient observations were etched on cuneiform tablets. This remarkable fusion of cultures, embodied in the achievements of Hipparchos, greatly benefited Ptolemy 300 years later.

Ptolemy advised his readers that to comprehend the great cycles of the stars provides serenity in the midst of continually changing earthly life:

“Above all things, astronomy can make men see clearly. From the constancy, order, symmetry and calm which are associated with the divine, astronomy makes its followers lovers of this divine beauty, accustoming them and reforming their natures, as it were, to a similar spiritual state.”

The night sky is filled with hundreds of stories which remind us that a knowledge of the heavens has always been part of what makes us human. In the fifth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Empedokles answered one who asked him why he was alive:

“That I may behold the stars; take away the firmament, I will be nothing.”

A century later Plato thought that humans were made to walk upright in order that we might comprehend the heavens.

A challenge to all of us is found in the Hebrew book of Job:

“Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?
Can you loose the belt of Orion?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?”

The next time you reach to turn on the television, remember that the best show broadcast tonight may be the one playing above your roof! Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us of the spectacular sights available to anyone night after night:

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how men would adore them; and preserve for generations the remembrance of the City of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
(Voice of Micah DeLeón)

As the Earth flies through space on its yearly orbit the constellations we see tonight will be replaced by the stars of another season.

Isaiah spoke of the faithful order of the changing heavens:

“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.”

Shelly wrote,

“Heaven’s utmost deep
Gives up her stars, and like a flock of sheep
They pass before his eye, are number’d, and roll on.”

From night to night over the coming months remember to look up for the Summer Triangle: Cygnus the Swan with the bright star Deneb; Lyra the Harp with bluish bright Vega; and Aquila the Eagle with bright star Altair. From our home on this spinning planet, circling around a yellow star, whirling in the Cygnus Arm around the starwheel called the Milky Way, contemplate the multitude of galaxies suspended in the visible heavens, all of which reside like specks of silver dust in the Creator’s hand.

Who knows what might happen? On a starry night as you walk with a friend in the quiet outdoors, surrounded by the Earth-sounds of summer, you may discover that you hear far-off the music of the heavens, the universal heritage of humanity on this Earth in space. Perhaps before your next visit to the planetarium, the summer universe will bend down to your own backyard, and leave you starstruck with the night.

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