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. 

Love between worlds

Jun 22, 2015

The evening sky continues to be dramatic this week, with Venus and Jupiter moving closer and closer to one another, so it's time to consider love relationships between the worlds. When you're looking at Venus and Jupiter in the night sky about 45 minutes after sunset it's fun to remember that Venus is closer to us than the Sun, and Jupiter is further from us than the Sun.  Now for the Greeks, Venus was Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty; while Jupiter was associated with the god Zeus, leader of the Olympians.

The Starry Crown Adorns the Fairest Month

Jun 8, 2015

As the month when summer begins, June is sometimes considered the crowning month of the year~which makes it the perfect time for finding the starry crown in skies overhead.

Leda and the Swan

May 26, 2015

This week the planet Venus is at its most brilliant this week among the stars of the constellation Gemini, the twins, which is the prefect set up for the Ancient Greek myth of Leda and the Swan.

Mecury retrograde

May 18, 2015

This week you will undoubtedly hear that the planet Mercury is moving retrograde and that you should be careful with all things communications related, but what’s the story behind this cosmic blame game?

From the Earth, it appears that all the planets move around the Sun in the same direction. Retrograde motion is the illusion created when it seems like the planets are moving in the opposite direction.

This motion confounded ancient astronomers for centuries, but the mythology of it was used to explain the mischief of the gods.

When Old Mother Goose takes to the stars

May 11, 2015

The term “Mother Goose’ is most often associated with English nursery rhymes that were popularized in the 1700s. But did you know that the term may have originated with the mother of Charlemagne, and that its real roots are in the stars?

Every year in the month of the May, the constellation Cygnus the Swan begins to rise up with the Milky Way in the northeast. Though typically regarded as a swan, the constellation Cygnus is also referred to as the Northern Cross, and as the Mother Goose, especially as rendered in the ditty:

The Flower Queen's daughter in the stars

May 4, 2015

There's a beautiful fairy tale unfolding overhead this week, where the May Full Moon, often known as the 'flower Moon' unfolds with the story of the "The Flower Queen's daughter".

In the fairy tale, a valiant Prince sets out to rescue the Flower Queen's Daughter, who was captured by a fierce and mighty dragon. The dragon sleeps for one whole year at a time, but each night while he sleeps, his mother hosts a ball. Though captive, the daughter of the Flower Queen amuses herself by attending this ball every night.

When we look southwest into the sky this week, about an hour before sunrise, we can imagine the waning gibbous Moon as the Flower Queen's Daughter; the mighty constellation Scorpion is the dragon,and the dragon's mother we can imagine as the bright star Antares, at the heart of Scorpius.

The fourth and final main character is the valiant Prince: the golden planet Saturn, also moving through this region of the sky right now. All of this can be seen looking southwest into the sky an hour before sunrise.

In the tale, the Prince wins the Flower Queen's Daughter by tricking the Dragon's Mother into believing he finds her to be the most beautiful woman in the world. But then, his plans laid, he steals the Flower Queen's Daughter away, and rides with her through the night, to her own mother's palace:

"But the dragons had noticed their flight, and woke their brother out of his year's sleep. He flew into a terrible rage when he heard what had happened, and determined to lay siege to the Flower Queen's palace, but the Queen caused a forest of flowers as high as the sky to grow up round her dwelling, though which no one could force a way."

You can watch this happily ever after as it unfolds overhead in southwest morning skies this week, and you can find a link to the entire tale at the Interlochen Public Radio website.

Link to the fairy tale of "the Flower Queen's Daughter, from Andrew Lang's Yellow Fairy Book:
http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/146/the-yellow-fairy-book/4769/the-flower-queens-daughter/


Orion walks on over the western horizon

Apr 20, 2015

The mighty constellation Orion is about to set for the season, but before the giant hunter goes, he can still give us a 'leg up' into the sky for just a few more weeks.

Orion is probably one of the most well-known constellations around the world, and has been associated with the Egyptian God Osiris since ancient times. Over time, Osiris eventually became the very important Egyptian God of the Dead.

This is International Dark Sky Week, a good time to remember that Michigan is home to an International Dark Sky Park, one of only 16 in the nation. And we've got three Dark Sky Preserves.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park is located along the shore of Lake Michigan near Mackinaw City. The park is easy to find, located just a few miles off of I-75.

International Dark Sky Week

Apr 13, 2015

It's International Dark Sky Week. What lights are you going to turn off?

International Dark Sky Week was established in 2003 by high school student Jennifer Barlow in order to raise awareness about the effects of light pollution and light trespass on views of the night sky. Light trespass is the kind of light that spills out across the boundaries of the area in means to illuminate. 

Now, 12 years later, a lot of individuals and associations have jumped on board to honor International Dark Sky Week, including the International Dark Sky Association at www.darksky.org

The Message in the Stars

Apr 6, 2015

Looking into the sky this week from the perspective of the mystery wisdom that was cultivated at mystery centers around the ancient world, then we can find a beautiful story unfolding overhead.

 The two planets that are closest to the Sun, the planets Venus and Mercury, always held a special relationship to the human being on the Earth, according to the sages that taught in these mystery centers.  Mercury, closest to the Sun, is never seen very far away from the Sun. Mercury moves very quickly, and was always regarded as bearing a message, not only from the sun to the Earth, but from the many spiritual beings that were thought to have inhabited the celestial environment around the Earth. Mercury will come to the same place in the Zodiac as the Sun overnight Thursday, and though we can't see it, this is the time, or so it was believed, for messages between man and gods to be delivered.
  Venus, the brightest object in our sky after Sun and Moon, was always regarded as the bringer of harmony and love. Venus was also thought to reflect what lives in the heart of the human being.
  These two planets, Venus and Mercury, we only ever see at the horizon at sunset or sunrise~though Venus can get further away than Mercury.
  On Friday we'll see the planet Venus very close to the star cluster of the Pleiades, which is the shoulder region of the constellation Taurus, the Bull. This will be visible Friday night, about an hour after sunset looking west.
  According to many ancient mysteries, Pleiades was regarded as the course of beginnings for everything in our universe. 
  If we put all of these pieces together: Mercury as messenger meeting the Sun; Venus as love; and Pleiades as the source, then it could be that at week's end, there is a message of love streaming toward us from the deepest place of our own beginnings. Or so that's the gesture in the stars this week, if we look into the sky from the ancient understanding that was cultivated in the mystery centers.


The Lunar Eclipse as the cosmic call to destiny

Mar 30, 2015

Is there a change on the Earth when there's an Eclipse of the Moon?

On Saturday this week, April 4, 2015, there will be a Total Eclipse of the Moon, starting at 6 am (Note that for the eastern part of North America, the Moon will set before eclipse achieves totality). If we look at this eclipse through the cultural history of humanity, we can find that there are different things that go on when this first Full Moon of Spring is eclipsed. This is because, in many cultural traditions, Spring is regarded as the beginning of the spiritual new year. Looking into the celestial world to find the relationship between Sun and Moon and Earth every Spring was the way to find the 'cosmic call to destiny' for the coming year. Now in the Jewish tradition, the Spring Full Moon marks the observance and celebration of the festival of the Passover. Traditions connected with this festival have included the observance of a curfew, so that people were in the practice of not going out at night, or specifically, of not going out into the light of the Moon. When we get to the Christian tradition, we find in the New Testament description of the Last Supper, which is a Passover meal, that Judas Isacriot goes out into the night after this meal. More specifically, he goes into the influence of the Moon,or into an eclipsing Moon, which is quite a bit different than any of the other Spring Moons. Because of this, there is a tradition of not going out into the light of the Spring Moon when it is being eclipsed, and instead to spend time in prayer and fasting. If we look into the region of the stars where we find the Sun at this time, We find that the planet Uranus is in the same field of stars. Uranus was the first planet in the history of humanity that was discovered with the use of a telescope, which means it brought something new to human experience. Because of this, Uranus has always been regarded as a herald of change. With a Total Eclipse of the Spring Moon, and the planet Uranus in the same region of the zodiac as the Sun, there certainly seems to be change on our horizon. Partial Lunar Eclipse begins at 6:16 am Saturday, April 4, 2015.Then the Sun will rise in the East at 7:19 am.While the Moon is in the beginning stages of Eclipse, it will set in the West at 7:24 amTotal Eclipse starts at 7:58 am (this will not be visible in our region)Greatest Eclipse will be at 8 am, and will last for only three minutes, until 8:03 amPartial Eclipse ends at 9:45 am


Snogorotchka -The Snow Maiden

Mar 23, 2015

This week we can dive headlong into Spring as we follow the waxing crescent moon across the sky, meeting first with Pleiades on Monday night, and then at week's end moving through the region of the sky where we find Cancer and Leo, and the bright planet Jupiter. This time of year, when we're in the first full week of Spring, it calls to mind the story from the Russian tradition of "the Snow Maiden", also known as "Snegorotchka." The story is that there is an older couple that has lived a long and happy life, though somewhat melancholy because they have never had a child of their own.  But then, lo! one Winter, they build a snow maiden out of the snow, who actually takes on a human life. The snow maiden lives happily with them throughout the Winter months, but then with the return of the Spring, she melts away, just as the receding snow line moves through our area in this season. This story is beautifully told by Edmund du Lac, and it's worth reading one full paragraph here that beautifully describes the onset of Spring, as we all get ready for it ourselves: And now the Winter months moved on. With slow and steady stride they went from mountain top to mountain top, around the circle of the sky-line. The Earth began to clothe itself in green. The great trees, holding out their naked arms like huge babies waiting to be dressed, were getting greener and greener, and last year's birds sat in their branches singing this year's songs. The early flowers shed their perfume on the breeze, and now and then a waft of warm air, straying from its summer haunts, caressed the cheek and breathed a glowing promise in the ear. The forests and the fields were stirring. A beautiful spirit brooded over the face of nature;~Spring was trembling on the leash and tugging to be free... So as you watch the Moon getting bigger and bigger this week, you can imagine it as Spring, tugging to be freed from the snow across the land.


Once upon a time in the stars

Mar 9, 2015

Once upon a time with Orion

Very few constellations are visible all the world over at the same time, but in the month of March, we have just such a phenomenon.The constellation in question is the mighty giant Orion, with his very famous belt of three stars. Because these three stars are positioned almost directly along the celestial equator, the imaginary line that divides the northern and southern celestial hemispheres, it means that every year, as we draw toward Equinox, Orion can be seen at night in the skies over both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. In the world of the storyteller, Orion and the stars around it can be easily linked to the well-known tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk." Jack and his mother live in very poor conditions, and are forced to sell even their milking cow, their one last source of food. Jack sells the cow for a handful of beans, much to the dismay of his mother.   When you look into the night sky, you can imagine that Orion is the surly giant that Jack encounters at the top of the beanstalk, and Orion's famous belt of three stars represent the three treasures that Jack must retrieve from the giant: the hen that lays the golden eggs; the two bags of gold; and the singing harp. The milking cow that Jack traded? That's the constellation Taurus, the bull, which appears above and right of Orion in the sky, where you can also find the handful of beans, also known as the star cluster of the Pleiades. If you're looking at Orion in the sky, and you follow his belt of stars down and to the left, you see the brightest star in our night sky, which is the star Sirius. In the tale, Sirius is the fairy who sets up this challenge for Jack, to determine whether he has the courage and capacity to overcome the giant and to restore to himself his father's treasures.  Fortunately because it's a fairy tale, there's always a happily ever after. So if ever you feel you've sold your cow for a handful of beans, perhaps you can find solace under the stars of Orion throughout the month of March. Link to the story "Jack and the Beanstalk" from Andrew Lang's Color Fairy Books: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0328jack.html#lang


In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Mar 2, 2015

The month of March used to mark the beginning of the New Year, and in many religious traditions, it still marks the beginning of the spiritual new year.

The month of March gets its name from the Roman God of War, the planet Mars. Mars was not only a defensive warrior, he was also a god of aggression, and taking action, so he is also associated with the beginnings of things, so when his month came 'round, that was the beginning of the new year. Also in the month of March, we have the first day of Spring, which is known technically as the Vernal Equinox. Equinox is the point where it appears to us that the Sun comes to the Celestial Equator, and begins to move into the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. This marks the point in the cycle of the year when, in the Norther Hemisphere, we begin to have greater sunlight. This time of year is also the 'trigger' for when it's appropriate to celebrate the Spring festivals of renewal, including the Passover, the renewal of fire, or the Easter Festival.  We can still 'hear' March as the beginning of the new year when we listen to the names of the calendar months that are still in use. September is the seventh month from March; October is the eighth month; November the ninth month from March; and December is the tenth month. The other interesting thing about March is that it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This isn't just a reference to the weather; it's a reference to the stars that are rising and setting at this time. The constellation Leo, the Lion, is rising up in the East at sunset, while the stars of Aries, the Ram or Lamb, are starting to be swallowed up in the light of the Sun looking West at sunset.  By month's end, the stars of Aries will 'go out' with the Sun, so we can truly say the March brings in the Lion, and goes out with the lamb. 


Star Kings and the Plain of Wonder

Feb 23, 2015

There are a lot of astronomical kings hidden in the night sky, and this week they're getting active. Right now the Sun is in the region of the constellation Aquarius, while on the opposite side of the sky, the planet Jupiter is in the region of the constellation Leo. When constellations are 'opposite' one another, it means they appear on opposite sides of the Earth from one another, so when one constellation is rising, the other is setting. In Aquarius, the brightest star has a name that means "the lucky one of the king", and other stars that are associated with luck, like "the lucky star of hidden things and hiding places." But because the Sun is in this region of the sky right now, we're not able to see these stars~we just have to know that they're there, hidden in the light of the Sun. On the opposite side of the sky, there stands Leo, with its brightest star, also a "king star", Regulus. Regulus means the "little" or "hidden king". And Jupiter is right nearby. This configuration in the sky, with Sun in Aquarius and Jupiter in Leo, is a perfect set up for the tale from the Celtic Creation Myths about the King of the Plain of Wonder.  Every year, the King is bound to put on a disguise and go out among his people seeking good or ill at every turn. This is a classic "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" myth, for the King is hidden, but he always has a witness. The witness ensures that every deed is repaid in kind. That 'witness' right now can be imagined as the planet Jupiter, standing close by the 'hidden king' Regulus, and opposite the lucky kings in Aquarius, now hidden by the Sun.


Are Venus and Mars all right tonight?

Feb 16, 2015

It will be two years before the planets Venus and Mars come as close to one another as they will this weekend, Saturday, February 21st. In many ancient cultures, Venus and Mars were typically regarded as lovers,so you would think that when they come closest together, that's when they would impart the strongest influence for love. However, this was actually regarded as the time when love was weakest.  The story of Venus and Mars is somewhat of a compromise. Venus is married to Vulcan, the metal-smith of the gods.

Friday the 13th and Valentine's Day

Feb 9, 2015

It's Valentine's Day this week, but will the omen of bad luck associated with Friday the 13th cast a shadow over opportunities for a weekend of romance?

Casting a celestial shadow

Feb 2, 2015

This week the story in the sky is all about casting shadow.

February 2nd marks the halfway point in the Winter season and is known as a ‘cross quarter day.” Technically this means the Sun is closer to Equinox, or the first day of Spring, than it is to Solstice, which was the first day of Winter.

And at this time of year, the Sun is brilliant in clear blue skies, casting long shadows across the snow-covered Earth by day, while at night, the Winter Moon does the same.

Further, the Winter Moon will be Full on Tuesday this week, right next to the bright planet Jupiter. So Sun, Moon, and Jupiter are all conspiring to cast shadows across the Earth by day and by night this week.

In the United States, if the Ground Hog emerges now and sees his shadow, then we are cursed with six more weeks of Winter, even though seeing one’s shadow means skies are clear. This is an odd contradiction.

But there’s something behind the celebration of Ground Hog’s Day that suggests a deeper mystery of the Earth in its celestial environment.

Consider, the light and warmth radiating from the Sun toward the Earth doesn’t just bounce off the Earth, rather it’s ‘absorbed’ by the Earth. And when the Sun appears furthest from us, during the Winter months, then we have to rely on this inner light and warmth that was absorbed during warmer, brighter seasons.

Now, if the Ground Hog emerges from his den and sees his shadow in this season, before the light has regained dominance over the season of dark, it just might mean that the sunlight stored within has escaped too soon, and the cold will hang around for longer than it would otherwise.

The sun will rise at 8 am in the East Wednesday morning, just as the Full Winter Moon is setting with the bright planet Jupiter in the West. Make plans now to get out and find your own celestial shadow.

 


January and the season of growth

Jan 26, 2015

This week the story in the stars in not about what we can see, but what we can know.

We're just about halfway through the Winter season during this last week of January, and it's at this time of year we can begin to consider the 'mystery of agriculture' as it was practiced and understood by ancient cultures.

We have to bear in mind that agriculture, the art of planting seeds into Earth that would then take root, sprout, and eventually bear fruit, was regarded as a sacred practice that could only take place during the proper season.

If we set aside for a moment that Copernican though the Earth is not at the center of our planetary system, then we can begin to imagine what motivated ancient practice.

For thousands of years the understanding was that the Earth was at the center of the universe, and that in certain very specific seasons, forces would stream toward Earth from the spiritual cosmos that would instigate growth forces to rise up out of the Earth.

So when would this kind of encounter take place between Earth and its celestial environment? Around the time of the last week of January. Astronomically, here's what's happening:  The Sun, appearing to move around the Earth, is almost halfway through the season, which means days are growing longer. The Sun came to its standing still moment furthest below the celestial equator at Solstice, which marked the beginning of Winter. 

In several weeks, it will arrive at its Equinox moment, the first day of Spring, when day and night are of equal length.  And just prior to the halfway point on this journey, this period of time occurs, or so it was anciently held, when all the growth forces for the coming seasons had finally arrived at Earth.

Looking into the sky this week, we can see the brilliant planet Venus in the West, about 45 minutes after sunset. Then turning to face East, the spectacular planet Jupiter is rising up over the horizon at the same time. Watch these two as they move closer and closer together throughout the coming weeks and months, until they meet in the West in the evening sky, right at the beginning of Summer, in late June.


The poetry of the night

Jan 19, 2015

On cold clear nights the stars are so brilliant it’s as if they were speaking. But if they could speak, what would they say?

The Moon, New on Tuesday morning, will take a spectacular walk through a garden of planets this week, tiptoeing past Mercury and Venus Wednesday evening; then, grown a little bolder, the waxing crescent will meet the warrior planet Mars on Thursday.

It’s easy to imagine that this is the kind of celestial scene that inspired the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge with the words: The moving Moon went up the sky and nowhere did abide. Softly she was going up, and a star or two beside…

But while Coleridge wrote beautifully about the stars, Ancient scholars trained themselves to understand what the stars themselves were speaking. They referred to this as the astro-logos, literally as star words, which we experience in a much diminished form today as ‘astrology.’ Astrology or the ‘speaking of the stars’ is remarkably different from ‘astronomy’, which is the contemporary science of the stars.

For the ancient readers of the starry script, the fixed points of light we know of as the still stars were like the consonants in the human language. And in the rhythmic sweep of the Moon and planets they discerned what we consider vowels ~ the letters that give motion to spoken words.

Each night this starry speaking sweeps into a new expression as the Moon and the planets slowly change their positions against the background of fixed stars.

Watch the Moon as our poetic scribe this week, looking slightly south of west about 45 minutes after sunset, and find your way to the poetry of the night.


Finding Native New Year in the stars

Dec 29, 2014

Is it possible to find the moment of New Year just by knowing the stars?

The star cluster known as the Pleiades comes to its highest place in the sky this week. You can find it looking high in the East at 8 pm.

The Pleiades are the most storied about group of stars around the world, and in the tradition of people native to the upper Great Lakes region, they were used as a calendar to mark the New Year, long before the Gregorian calendar came into use in the 1700s.

Local legend holds that the Pleiades were the children of a local tribe who danced up into the sky while trying, without permission, to imitate the ceremonial practice of their elders. Their fateful dance took place at the darkest time of the year, while their parents were fast asleep. When the elders finally did awake, they followed the sound of their children’s song, only to witness the children ascending into the sky.

Then a voice was heard saying: “Do not grieve too much. We are on an endless journey, a trail of dance and song. In summer watch us coming by way of the south to the setting Sun. In the winter you will see us coming by way of the north toward the rising Sun. When we are directly overhead, observe the ceremonies.”

Each year at this time, the ceremony of the New Year was held when Pleiades is highest in the sky, but not until five sleeps after the Winter’s New Moon.

This week, the waning gibbous Moon will guide you to Pleiades, looking north and east about an hour after sunset on New Year’s Eve. The star cluster will carry us all across the threshold of night and into the New Year, only setting with the Moon at 4:45 am on January 1, 2015.


The 12 Days of Christmas

Dec 22, 2014

The season of Advent comes to a close this week, and now begins the 12 Days of Christmas.

So here’s how it works: There are 12 days between the festivals of Christmas, December 25, and Epiphany, January 6.  We’ve just had the darkest moment of the year at Solstice.  Now we celebrate he return of light, also known as as the sacred birth that takes place three days later, atmidnight between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Finding Ourselves in the dark at Solstice

Dec 15, 2014
Rod Cortright from his Wildwood Obersvatory, Boyne City, MI

Does being in the dark give us greater awareness of ourselves?

The Earth is tilted from its plane of orbit, so as we move through the cycle of the year, it looks to us like the Sun is moving above and below our equator.

When the Sun is furthest below, there’s a period of a few days when it seems to stop.  This ‘stop’ is called Winter Solstice. Solstice means the standing still of the Sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the darkest time of the year.

Pheathon

Dec 8, 2014

When you’re wishing on a star, does it matter if it fell from a comet or an asteroid?

This weekend the Geminid Meteor Shower comes to its peak. Most meteor showers are caused by comets, but the Geminids are mysteriously caused by an asteroid.

It’s like this: Asteroids are usually found in the asteroid belt, a region between the planets Mars and Jupiter where there are millions of space rocks; Comets, on the other hand, fly in toward our Sun from well beyond the furthest reaches of our solar system.

Asteroids are made up of metals and rocky material, so they’re solid, even when they’re near the Sun. Comets are made up of ice, dust, and rock. That might not seem like a big distinction, but when comets get close to the Sun, they burn up. And it’s this burned up stuff that causes meteor showers.

Then there’s asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the parent body of the Geminid Meteor Shower. It’s an asteroid not a comet, so it remains solid and doesn’t leave a trail, even when it’s near the Sun.

Still, 3200 Phaethon mysteriously causes one of the most prolific meteor showers of the year.

Astronomers call 3200 Phaethon a ‘rock comet’, a rare form of celestial object that isn’t vaporizing and leaving a trail of dust like a comet, but nonetheless is triggering a meteor shower here on earth. 

Unlike its namesake Phaethon, who took off with his father’s chariot of the Sun and fell to his death, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon appears somewhat defiant, producing a lively meteor shower every year, with 120 to 160 meteors per hour at its peak.

Look for the Geminid Meteor Shower overnight this weekend, from Saturday to Sunday~and let the mysterious nature of 3200 Phaethon infuse your holidays with magic.


Was there really a Christmas Star?

Dec 1, 2014

Was there really a Christmas Star?

The star Mira in the constellation Cetus means “Star of Wonder”. This star is visible over the horizon in the south every year at this time.

Mira is the star of wonder because it has been known, since ancient times, to be a star of great variability. They call it that because sometimes it’s invisible and sometimes it’s the brightest star in the sky.

In ancient times, it was believed that each human being comes from a particular star, that souls on Earth were equal in number to the stars in the universe. Each soul was connected to a star.

Then, the fact that the Star of Wonder grew brighter or dimmer every few months meant something unusual was about to happen in this soul/star connection, that perhaps a significant birth was about to happen.

The ancient sages would read the stars patterns, and this is how they knew if a significant birth was going to take place.  When Mira starting pulsing toward greater brightness they knew it was time to make ready.

Mira continues to impress astronomers to this day, since it is the only star known that has a comet-like tail, which suggests that there’s something even more unusual about it. 

Find Mira looking south about an hour after sunset. It appears in the region of the sky where there are great superclusters, the largest structures known in the observable universe~as though they were souls, waiting their turn to come to birth.


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