The Storyteller's Night Sky

This week, in that sacred place where the dark of night surrenders to the dawn, a mighty council of stars is taking place, as if to say: “O, humanity, if you seek remedy to your current trials, lift up your thoughts to the stars, for the powers that wait on your noble deeds have gathered and await your participation.”

So maybe you heard there was an eclipse last weekend. Did you see it? Or did you go out to look at the brilliant lunar light and wonder what everybody was talking about? Sometimes it’s like that.

The Moon is building toward a mighty crescendo this week but will then perform a sleight of hand when it arrives at Full phase and slips invisibly into eclipse in the midnight hour July 4th to 5th.

Because the Moon was New on Sunday, we’ll get beautiful views of it as a waxing crescent in the evening sky all week long, looking west into the twilight after the Sun sets, and especially overnight Wednesday, when it moves past the star Regulus, at the heart of the constellation Leo, the Lion.

The word Solstice derives from the Latin sol  for ‘sun’ and the verb sistere ‘to stop, or be stationary’.  In the cycle of the year, Solstice marks the two points when the Sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon ~ and this year, both of these moments, Summer Solstice in June, and Winter Solstice in December, bring rare celestial phenomena.

Sky watching is a lesson in learning that things take time, even though they can be fleeting once they occur.

Think of Saturn and Jupiter. Because of the difference in their orbital rhythms, it takes them 20 years to come together in the same region of sky, which they’ll do this year,  at Winter Solstice in December. They’re already pretty close to one another, and they’ll be constant companions throughout the weeks and months ahead. When they come to the moment of their exact conjunction, they’ll be closer than they have been since the time of Galileo in the 1600s!

On Wednesday this week, the planet Venus comes to a meeting with the Sun, known astronomically as inferior conjunction. And while Venus is having this encounter with the Sun, the two of them will be square, or at a right angle, with the planet Mars, which greets the dawn from the stars of Aquarius. So what can it mean?

This last week of May is also the last week of the year that the planet Venus will be visible in the evening sky, because she’s in her retrograde motion now and quickly falling into the arms of the Sun.

There’s a New Moon on Friday this week, and on the same day, the planets Mercury and Venus will join one another in the same region of the sky, looking west after sunset.

Three of the five naked-eye planets begin their retrograde motions this week, beginning with Saturn on Monday, followed by Venus on Wednesday, and Jupiter on Thursday. 

Mercury meets the Sun at superior conjunction on Monday, on the other side of the Sun from Earth, then the Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower peaks toward dawn on Tuesday, followed by Full Moon on Thursday morning. What are your plans for the week?

Venus will be at its brightest for the year this week, which brings Alfred Tennyson to mind for the Storyteller’s Night Sky: Her constant beauty doth inform stillness with love, and day with light.

This week marks International Dark Sky Week, because of the New Moon on Wednesday, April 22nd, which is also the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower.

The Moon is waning through the morning sky this week, acting like an emotional tuning fork as she moves past Pluto, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.


Monday, April 6 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of master artist of the High Renaissance Raphael, celebrated in his own day as a genius, for his countless, beautiful Madonnas, for the Disputa and School of Athens, and for his final painting, The Transfiguration, which towered over the bed in which he died in Rome in 1520. It was Good Friday, and, coincidentally, his 37th birthday. 

In January there was an unusual line-up of planets at one place in the zodiac that included the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Saturn, and Pluto. Since then, they have all moved on, but due to the varying speeds of the planets in their orbits, it will appear to us that they all make a retrograde or backward motion, which will result in another meeting of planets in the same degree of the zodiac as in January, only the players will be slightly different. This time, it will only be Jupiter and Pluto.

At this unusual moment in history there is an interesting array of celestial phenomena populating the morning sky and stirring the thought life.

To slightly modify the words of English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we're two months before the month of May, and with Full Moon and the direct motion of Mercury both occurring this Monday, March 9th, we’re headlong into the season’s finale!

Until the reign of Julius Caesar in the first century BC, the month of March was considered the first month of the year, with its start date determined by the first visibility of the Moon after its Spring New Phase. The weather and the stars also played a part in helping ancient communities get ready for the Spring, and it was out of this connection to natural phenomena that folk loric ideas arose, like the one that claims that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

Were it not for the significant 16th century event that took place on Monday of this week, then we’d be reckoning time according to a different date come Saturday, which is Leap Day, February 29th, a date that only rolls around once every four years, providing the year is divisible by 400.

This week the Moon will cascade down a stair of morning planets in her silvery gown as the Titan Goddess Selene, sweeping us into the folklore of prophetic morning dreams when she meets Mars on Tuesday morning, Jupiter on Wednesday, and Saturn on Thursday, before she disappears into her dark phase below the eastern horizon and arrives at New Phase again on Sunday, February 23rd.

The Old Testament tale of the prophet Jonah being swallowed by a whale is commemorated each year at this time in a three-day fast, while the constellation Cetus the whale just begins to set over the western horizon.

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.

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