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. 

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!

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.

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