Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A great week for stargazing

In the 1960s, archeologist Jacquette Hawkes famously said, “Every generation gets the Stonehenge it deserves — and desires.” It’s an appropriate statement even now, 50 years later, and given that vernal equinox occurs at 6:45 p.m. on Friday, March 20th, just a few hours after a total solar eclipse over the North Atlantic, it's timely to consider it again.
It's said that Stonehenge was built in order to observe and predict the various celestial phenomena that occur rhythmically throughout the year. Such phenomena guided centuries of human striving, and in ancient times, the knowledge of their occurrence was prerequisite to participating in the celebration of life’s most sacred mysteries. Archaeological findings confirm that this was true at Stonehenge, Chizen Itza, the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Greek Temple to Artemis, in the region of the megaliths of the Great Plains. Observance of the celestial phenomena from these sites was the right of the initiated, who then used these celestial moments for the practical purposes of establishing religious ceremony, civic organization, agricultural practice, funerary rites, even architectural form — all facets of human experience designed in accord with the harmony of the cosmos

Now, let's fast forward to the 21st century. How are the celestial phenomena observed and celebrated now? Taking equinox as an example, we find that the time and date of such a phenomenon is no longer determined by human beings observing the celestial environment from specific geographic locations on the Earth. Rather, astronomers use what is called an “International Celestial Reference Frame,” 200 extra-galactic points that are measured in order to determine the Earth-Sun positions relative to one another. These positions are calculated from points beyond or outside that relationship. Does this matter? In many ways it reflects our thinking about ourselves in our celestial system, as though because we no longer consider ourselves physically at the center, we are somehow outside of the system, looking at it without actively participating in it; somehow we are subject to its randomness, but are not held responsible for what we ourselves might be contributing to its ongoing nature.

The ancients believed that they must participate in the observable rhythms of a living universe, that they must find their way to the sacred places of the Earth and set aside time to honor its gifts and make a contribution in return. And while some of the methods through which these rites were performed are abhorrent to contemporary humanity, we might do well to consider the principle behind them. The ancients believed that each human being comes from a star. Astrophysicists today will say we are made of the exploded remnants of dead stars. These are totally different pictures, demonstrating the unique nature of the world chaos that humanity is confronted with from one age to the next, and as Hawkes stated, it reveals to us that we each get the Stonehenge we deserve.
Because the moon will be at new phase on equinox, this is a great week for stargazing. The barest crescent of the moon may be visible near the now-setting red planet Mars in the west one hour after sunset on Saturday, March 21. Just above them, and throughout the season, Venus blazes as our brilliant evening star, having recently appeared as close to Mars as possible — a scene that won't repeat again until late 2017. Venus is now making ready for an early summer encounter with Jupiter, and we can watch them from now until then, as they draw closer and closer together. This week, Jupiter can be seen nearing the heart star Regulus, in the constellation Leo, arcing from the east high up in the south these nights, while Saturn is visible in the morning sky, in the region of the Scorpion, where we find the red supergiant star Antares, which name means "rival of Mars." Antares is a brilliant star to the naked eye, as well as through binoculars or telescopes, flickering and flaring above the horizon, making it easy to understand cultural associations of this star with passion and intensity. As a supergiant, Antares is 10,000 times brighter than our sun.

After equinox, it appears as though the sun is moving in the northern celestial hemisphere, which means that the next full moon, April 4, which phase occurs when the moon arrives on the opposite side of the earth from the sun, will occur in the southern celestial hemisphere. This trading of places between sun and moon in the celestial horizon signaled to most northern hemisphere cultures that now the festivals of renewal could take place, be it the festival of the renewal of fire in the Asian tradition, the observance of the Passover in the Jewish tradition, or the festival of Easter in the Christian tradition. And this year, the vernal full moon as it is also known, will itself be totally eclipsed, just as the sun will be at vernal equinox. The lunar eclipse will be visible from Norther Michigan, starting in the 6 a.m. hour, and achieving totality at almost 8 a.m., half an hour after it has set for us.

Mary Stewart Adams is the program director (and resident stargazer) at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City. She is filling in for columnist Bryan Shumaker. Contact Adams atstarmare.adams@gmail.com.
Mary Stewart Adams is the program director for Emmet County's International Dark Sky Park at the Headlands, and can be heard each week on Interlochen Public Radio with her "Storyteller's Guide to the Night Sky," at 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. on Monday.

Full article (source): http://www.petoskeynews.com/sports/outdoors/mary-adams---a-great-week-for-stargazing/article_658556d0-0df0-58fe-9505-c5a6e324612c.html

Click here2015 Stonehenge Spring Equinox Details

Stonehenge Tour Guide.

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