The Storyteller's Night Sky

Every Monday morning at 6:31 and 8:31, IPR News Radio looks into the night sky with Mary Stewart Adams, former Program Director and founder of the International Dark Sky Park at the Headlands, who has been telling stories of the night sky on IPR since 2013. 

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!

There are some dramatic stories thundering through the August night sky every year, including desperate lovers bereft of one another, the miraculous feeding of the hungry multitude, and the great mystery of transfiguration.

The Black Moon: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Jul 29, 2019

This week there are three active meteor showers, a Black Moon, and the Summer Cross Quarter Day, which makes it really exciting for stargazing and story telling.

This season the mighty constellation of the hero Hercules sweeps across the zenith, the uppermost part of the night sky, bearing mystery in his wake.

The Moon will be Full this week on July 16th, a rather peculiar day in history, and one to be reckoned with. Let’s consider:

The planet Saturn, the Titan god of the old order, opposes the Sun this week, while standing on the opposite side of the Milky Way from the planet Jupiter, god of the Olympians. But while these two gods have their counterparts in the celestial world, there’s another player in the story who doesn’t appear; he’s the ‘hidden god’, who serves as the bridge between them.

There’s a terrific mystery being staged in the night sky this week and throughout the summer, where the planets Jupiter and Saturn appear on opposite sides of the Milky Way.

Finding Stars the Way Bo Peep Finds Sheep

Jun 24, 2019

Constellation-hopping is one of the ways you can find your way around the night sky, and this week it can help you to the radiant, or center point of an early summer meteor shower, called the Boötids.

 The Boötids take their name from the constellation Boötes, the herdsman, and even though the falling stars don’t really come from the constellation itself, this kind of naming practice makes for some great storytelling.

Although it won’t be full until next week, the Moon will put on a dramatic show at the end of this week, rising just as the Sun is setting, while making its way to its fourth and final Full phase of the Spring.

This first full week of June includes a New Moon on Monday and some illustrious dates, if you’re a storyteller of the night sky!

Did you know that in the 16th century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe measured hundreds of stars and created a popular catalog of the night sky without ever once using a telescope? And that Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus also never used that handy device? 

At the middle of this week, Mercury comes to what I’ll call its “Full” phase, and at the end of the week, the Moon achieves its rare Blue Moon phase. We won’t see Mercury, and the Moon won’t appear blue, but still they’re both good for story!

Nearly 1000 years ago, a star went super nova in the region of the Bull’s Horns, in Taurus, and this week, the waxing crescent Moon will sweep over the very spot, opening the door on a fascinating bit of cultural and scientific history.

This week we’re already halfway through the Spring, when the “Cross Quarter” known as May Day occurs on May 2nd, which was a time celebrated in ancient Rome as the festival of Floralia, in honor of the flower goddess Flora, the daughter of Oceanus and the beloved of Zephyrus, the west wind.

Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22nd, which makes it poetically coincident with the Lyrid Meteor Shower. The Lyrids take their name from the constellation Lyra, which bears a challenging story across the sky of lost love in the Earth.

There’s a Full Moon this week, and even though it’s not the first Full Moon of the season, it is the one that determines the Spring festivals of renewal this year, like Easter and Passover.

July this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, the first space mission to put a human being on our only natural satellite. But 60 years ago this week, the first step took place that would lead to that historic step, ten years later.

Mars is the only evening sky planet this month, visited by the crescent Moon this weekend, but then returning to its solo journey through the stars for the rest of the month.

At midnight this week, the constellation Virgo appears high in the east, holding the star Spica in her arms, and trailing the return of seasonal light in her wake.

A magic moment is upon us this week when the Sun appears to cross the Celestial Equator heading north, bearing greater daylight in its wake. There's also a curious thing happening with the Moon the very same day.

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