astronomy

The constellation Auriga is known as the charioteer, and it mounts to the highest place in the sky these nights, bearing its brightest star Capella to the zenith, the northern-most 1st magnitude star in our sky.

Have you been wondering about the news regarding the star Betelgeuse and how it’s inexplicably dimming? Betelgeuse defines the right shoulder of the constellation Orion, a giant in the night sky and in humanity’s cultural history, ranging from associations with the ancient Egyptian God of the Dead to the Old Testament Book of Job to the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.

It’s the third full week of January, and though we are one month past Winter Solstice and the sunlight is growing stronger each day, statistics show that this is the time of year when we actually experience the coldest temperatures.

In ancient astrological wisdom, the influence of Venus and Mars on lovers was considered strongest when they were square to or opposite one another in the sky, and this month they’re setting up for just such a configuration.

There are several traditions that line up on January 6th, making it a unique day in the cycle of the year, including the Ancient Egyptian observance of the birth of Osiris, the Baptism of the Christ, the visitation of the Three Kings, and it’s the birthday of the French patriot and martyr Joan of Arc, in the 15th century.

Just as all our days gather into one final celebration here at the end of the year, so have all the major planets gathered up into one place with the Sun ~ well, nearly all of them.

Though Solstice marks the standing still and ultimate return of the Sun toward the northern celestial hemisphere, there are three further ‘turns’ that occur before what is truly new begins to unfold. These turns are the three “eves” that occur in this season: Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the eve of Epiphany, also known as 12th Night.

The early 20th century Austrian philosopher and scientist Dr. Rudolf Steiner once likened the cycle of the Earth’s year to a breathing process, with an inhalation and exhalation happening in the same rhythmic regularity for the Earth as it does for the human being. The full-in breath he likened to the moment of Winter Solstice, when it appears as though the Sun stands still furthest south on the horizon, and then slowly, by degrees, it begins to move north again, restoring light to the northern hemisphere.

This week the sky is beautifully set up for a tale from Rudyard Kipling “How the Whale Got His Throat”, because the star Mira, which marks the throat of the whale constellation Cetus, comes to its highest place in the sky now.

On Friday, December 6, the red planet Mars will sweep into the scales of Libra, as though he were a right jolly old elf, slipping into position to weigh and balance the naughty and nice on his Christmas list. 

This week the sky sets the perfect stage for one of America’s best-loved stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, written by Washington Irving in 1820, and it’s the perfect time for sharing it aloud around a cozy fire, as the horse constellation mounts to the zenith and the crescent Moon races past Venus and Jupiter in the deep rift of the Milky Way. What’s more, this week marks the anniversary of Washington Irving’s death, on November 28 in 1859.

All Summer long the giant planets Saturn and Jupiter stood as guardians on either side of the thickest region of Milky Way stars, where we find the Galactic Center. This week, Jupiter offers his hand to the planet Venus, goddess of love and beauty, so they can make their way through this very region of stars. So what’s the story? 

If ever there was a time to prepare a ceremony of the stars, then this week is it! The Moon is a waxing gibbous through the midnight hour; Venus is putting on her evening gown; and Mars is keeping company with the star of abundance at dawn ~ but that’s not all.

It’s the week of Halloween, a festive and mischievous celebration rooted in the ancient agrarian observance of the Autumn Cross Quarter Day, when stories abound about encounters with supernatural beings associated with fate.

This week marks the anniversary of the death of Tycho Brahe, on October 24 in 1601, the Danish astronomer whose dying wish to his assistant, Johannes Kepler, was something Kepler couldn’t fulfill.

Each year in this season, the Sun moves through the region of Libra stars, and the constellation of the starry crown sets in the west, settling all the mysteries of destiny for the year.

The skies they were ashen and sober; 

the leaves they were crispéd and sere~

the leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

Of my most immemorial year…

So wrote Edgar Allen Poe, poet and story writer, two years before he died in October, one hundred and seventy years ago this week.

The Moon was new last Saturday, which means that this week we get the romance of a waxing crescent moving up the sky over the western horizon all week.

The moment of equinox occurred at 3:50 am Monday, September 23rd, a date on which a new calendar was introduced in France in 1793, and the planet Neptune was  discovered, in 1846.

The planet Saturn resumes direct motion on Wednesday this week, after nearly five months in apparent retrograde, or westward, motion. Saturn appears to make a retrograde every year, and since it’s the slowest moving of the naked-eye planets, ancient astrologers always associated Saturn with the boundaries of time.

Whenever a month begins on a Sunday, then there will always be a Friday the 13th, and this month, that date falls on the eve of Harvest Moon.

Though most of the aurora activity has settled down by now, there’s still cause to be hopeful if you want to see it, because statistics show that the elusive lights are more active around the time of Equinox each year, and that’s where we’re headed. What’s more, the coronal hole that caused this weekend’s wild forecasts is rotating around the surface of the Sun and may face earthward again in about 28 days, so stay tuned.

Every year in August, the constellation Orion returns to northern hemisphere skies at dawn, bearing with him the brightest star in our sky after the Sun ~ the star Sirius.

Sirius played a significant role in every aspect of Ancient Egypt culture, a role that carried on well into the 20th century, because its heliacal rising in mid-August each year was the signal from the natural world that the mighty river Nile was about to flood. At the heliacal rising of Sirius, people would move off the flood plain to make way for the river, which would rise up to 46 feet in some places!

Follow the Moon as it wanes through the midnight sky this week, and you’ll arrive at the site of a significant celestial event that has occupied and astonished astronomers for centuries.

There’s a waxing gibbous Moon for most of this week, which means our nearest celestial companion will be gathering up most of the available light in the sky unto itself, and washing out the Milky Way, the dimmer stars, and even some of the Summer’s best meteors.

Still there’s a great tale of the emergent feminine to be had in all of this!

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