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 first New Moon of the New Year happens this week, overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, but not before shedding its old light into the lap of love as a way to make ready for what lies ahead.


Every New Year begins with the Earth making its closest approach to the Sun, and with a meteor shower of a now-defunct constellation. For me, this is the perfect set up for wandering into the new with the poets among the stars. And here’s why.    


Hindsight is 2020: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 28, 2020

By Friday this week we’ll all be able to look back with hindsight on 2020, and in the world of the Storyteller’s Night Sky, that means looking at what the planets and stars have been up to.

It’s the still time of the year. Sun and Moon have had their last meeting and it was exact, causing a total solar eclipse. Jupiter and Saturn come to their great conjunction today, December 21st, and it’s exact, their closest approach to one another since the 1600s. Venus watches over the gate of dawn; Mars guards us through the night.


The moment of Winter Solstice arrives Monday morning, December 21st, when the Sun seems to rest in quiet stillness, waiting for the Earth to complete its seasonal in-breath. Through every age of humanity, this has been observed as one of the most sacred moments of the year, and when we add to it the fact that this year, the two largest planets in our system will come to their once-every-20-years Great Conjunction on the same day, then it starts to seem like we’re being given a divine clue.

The biggest news this month is the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that comes at Winter Solstice, but we shouldn’t overlook next week’s Total Solar Eclipse, even though it won’t be visible to us in North America. The mystery of this eclipse at this time is still important in the unfolding narrative of 2020, which is now in its final chapter.


There was an eclipse in the early hours of this Monday morning, when the Moon came to Full Phase among the stars of Taurus and slipped into the outer edge of Earth’s shadow, which begs the question astrologically: which is easier to deal with, a full shadow, like at total eclipse; or the barest hint of shadow, like this one?

In many traditions, this last full week of November draws to a close the season of honoring loved ones who have died, and now ceremonial tradition turns toward the celebration of light that comes at the darkest time of year with Winter Solstice, next month.

There are three active meteor showers remaining for 2020, bringing the magic of more celestial light to the sky while greater darkness settles in across the northern hemisphere.

In the medieval legend of Parzival, the hero comes to be known as the Red Knight, so this week, we’ll consider him Mars. He also has several significant encounters with his cousin, Sigune, whom we’ll consider Venus. This week, the two of them are dramatically opposed in the starry heaven, with Venus/Sigune as morning star in the East, opposing Parzival/Mars in the West, where he will be setting as she rises.

The Moon is carving an interesting path through the sky this week, calling to mind a significant event in history, both in the Christian world and in the world of astronomy. Image detail from Abram's Planetarium Sky Calendar. Edit | Remove

So it’s election week in the United States, and what, you may ask, are the stars doing? For me, it’s not so much what they portend, but what they call to mind from the past.

With a Blue Moon at Halloween, followed by a Friday the 13th next month and a Total Solar Eclipse after that, it’s time to take a look at cultural superstitions in relation to the stars.

The meteor shower of the giant Orion peaks overnight this week, especially in the early morning hours of October 21st, so let’s take a look at what’s tucked in here.

As a star lore historian, my work is about trying to find the stories in the stars each week. So after looking at star maps and watching sunsets and moonrises, I look at ancient mythologies or astrological traditions, sometimes it’s the results of scientific research that get stirred up in my thinking about how to find the story in what’s going on, but over the years I’ve realized that, all of this is about trying to read the phenomena themselves. 

On Tuesday the planet Mars will be closer to us than it will be for another 15 years, so the question is: will we be inspired by the red planet’s genius or its demon?

The Harvest Moon rises Thursday, October 1st, and this year, it’s the first Full Moon of Autumn, and the first to appear above the celestial equator. This matters for us in the Northern Hemisphere because it means that from now until Spring, we will experience more moonlight than sunlight.

The Autumn Equinox occurs at 9:31 am on Tuesday the 22nd, but it’s what happens in the aftermath that’s drawing my attention this week, because of its relationship to the threefold mystery of being human.

When the stars were regarded as divine spiritual beings, or rather the outer vestments of such beings, then it was understood that each month, in its journey through the sky, the Moon would have an encounter with these beings. As such, the Moon was regarded as the coordinator of the festival cycles of the year, for the Moon was the gateway between the earthly/physical and the celestial/spiritual worlds, which are being celebrated in such festivals.

As we turn toward the final weeks of the season, my imagination as a star lore historian turns to the German folk tale of the mischievous gnome Rübezahl, who sought to entrap Summer’s beautiful princess and keep her in his love palace beneath the Earth forever.

This week I’m celebrating at “The Storyteller’s Night Sky” because it’s been eight years since I started doing these weekly segments about the stars for Interlochen Public Radio, looking into the celestial world around us through the lens of the humanities, rather than the lens of the telescope. 

The Moon comes to New Phase on Tuesday and will wax through evening twilight all week while Venus is bold as morning star. What can we expect in a week when the goddesses stand as guardians of the visible horizon and bookend the opposite ends of the day?

This week as the Perseid Meteor Shower achieves its peak, I imagine that the thrill of seeing a falling star and making wishes comes from a deep soul memory of being in the presence of the divine, which was understood in former times as the presence of the “hidden god.”

The Moon comes to Full Phase Monday, August 3rd at noon, then it wanes through the night sky, catching up with Mars next Sunday, before arriving in the vicinity of Venus, our brilliant morning star, later next week.

The star Spica appears high in the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset at this time, which means we’re drawing close to the halfway point in the summer season.

The halfway point in summer is the cross quarter day known as Lammas, for loaf mass, which indicates that this mid-season is all about bread and the wheat harvest. Traditionally at loaf mass, the season’s first wheat would be ground into flour then baked into bread and offered at the sacred site as a blessing for the remaining harvest. Later, the farmer’s wife would be tossed in a blanket with the last sheaf, to bring good luck in the subsequent threshing.

The big news in night sky this week was going to be Saturn’s annual opposition, but then Comet NEOWISE survived its closest approach to the Sun and trumpeted into naked-eye visibility, so now I want to talk about this unpredictable messenger from space instead.

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