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There is Time: this week on Storyteller's Night Sky

2022-8-15_There is Time beach grass arch.jpg
Mary Stewart Adams
As the sun sets in the west, Saturn, and then Jupiter, rise in the east, trekking through the evening sky for the remainder of the year. Photo of Lake Michigan sunset.

This week in the sky it’s all about time, with Saturn peeking up over the eastern edge of the world just as the Sun sets. On Sunday, Saturn made its annual retrograde opposition with the Sun, tracking westward against the background of stars. And now the lazy days of summer begin, with their longer shadows slanting toward Fall.

So why is Saturn connected to time? One way to answer is to consider the word “planet” which derives from a Greek word that means “wandering star.” Among the wandering stars that are visible to the naked eye, Saturn clearly moves the slowest, so in the ancient world, this planet marked boundary of time. Saturn, or Kronos to the Greeks, was the son of Ouranus, god of the sky, or space. This reveals an interesting, ancient concept that time is born out of space.

Then there’s the planet Jupiter, which has long been associated with things that want to expand and grow toward the future, and perhaps as our largest planet Jupiter would be endlessly expanding in space, except that it has Saturn, or time, to keep it in check.

Jupiter has also just started its retrograde, so now it’s also backtracking into the evening sky, where we’ll be able to see it next month.

Here’s Seamus Heaney:
Now it’s high watermark
and floodtide in the heart
and time to go.
The sea-nymphs in the spray
will be the chorus now.
What’s left to say?

Suspect too much sweet-talk
but never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
that blew me here. I leave
half-ready to believe
that a crippled trust might walk

and the half-true rhyme is love.

Mary Stewart Adams is a Star Lore Historian and host of “The Storyteller’s Night Sky.” As a global advocate for starry skies, Mary led the team that established the 9th International Dark Sky Park in the world in 2011, which later led to her home state of Michigan protecting 35,000 acres of state land for its natural darkness.