Dark Sky Park

This week, the Moon comes to New Phase on Thursday, May 25th, which is Ascension Day in the Christian calendar, and which marks the onset of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar.

This week we are within 100 days of the solar eclipse that will cast its shadow over the entire United States, from “sea to shining sea.”

 

The “Great American Eclipse” of August 2017 will be total along a 67-mile-wide path from Newport, Oregon to McClellanville, South Carolina, racing along through 14 states and swallowing five state capitals in its shadow before skipping off the continent and exhausting itself somewhere over the Atlantic. In Michigan, we’ll see 80 percent of the Sun eclipsed.

 

The constellation Cygnus wings back into the sky this month, trailing the better part of the Milky Way and a mighty quest in its wake.

Cygnus is variously known as the Swan, and the Northern Cross, on account of its shape. The outstretched wings of the swan appear like the t-bar on a cross as the stars rise up in the northeast on May evenings.

We typically associate ghosts and witches with Autumn and the season of the dead, but did you know that there are traditions for observing the same thing during the last week of April when life is springing up from the Earth?

The Lyrid Meteor Shower starts this week and comes to its peak overnight Saturday. What’s the best thing to know about it? It’s story, because if you find yourself under cloudy skies, you’ll still have something to marvel at!

There’s a terrific tale of King Arthur unfolding among the stars this week.

So here’s the set up: It’s Spring, and the two inner planets Mercury and Venus are both at retrograde, and the Moon is about to make its first opposition to the Sun for the season.

Mercury, as messenger, is moving backward out of the evening sky, so it’s like the post office is closed, and we can all expect communications to be mixed up or delayed.

The north pole of Saturn forms an unusual hexagon, in this image from the Cassini Mission

In their regular, or direct motion, The naked-eye planets appear to move eastward against the background of stars. But before 10 days have passed April, four of the five naked-eye planets will be moving backward, or retrograde. This means they will appear to move west word against the background of stars.

Because the first New Moon of the season occurs Monday evening, March 27th, we get to watch its beautiful crescent adorn the western horizon most of this week.

Up until very recently, the planet Venus brilliantly dominated the western horizon, casting her veil of love and beauty over the sunset world. But Venus has disappeared into the arms Sun, who is escorting her to her morning star position, where she’ll remain there for the rest of this year. 

The Sun strides over the celestial equator Monday morning March 20, and all at once, it’s Spring! In the words of Johnny Mercer, at such a moment “Ma Nature’s lyrical, with her yearly miracle, Spring, Spring, Spring!”

When the Sun moves over the celestial equator we say it’s Equinox, a moment that inaugurates what Irish poet William Butler Yeats called “the most beautiful and living of the year.” 

Recently my sister sent me a picture of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s 18th century masterpiece “Allegory of the Planets and Continents”, which shows the Ancient Greek Sun god Apollo, about to embark on his daily trek across the sky. Since the Sun is about to make its annual return to the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d look into a few of the names given to the Sun. 

With his famous belt of three stars, the constellation Orion is arguably one of the most well-known constellations around the world. And every year in March, he appears to fall toward the western horizon. But before he goes, there’s one more tale to tell!  

When you find Orion in the southwest region of the sky, you’ll see that he is flanked to the right by the constellation Taurus the bull, where we also find the star cluster of the Pleiades; and to the left, by the star Sirius, the brightest star in our sky.

Venus our brightest celestial companion after Sun and Moon, begins its rhythmic retrograde or apparent backward, motion this week. This means that very soon the planet will be swallowed up in the light of the Sun and will not be visible for awhile. But before Venus goes, there’s something we should be aware of…

When you’re a storyteller of the stars, you can’t help but look for them everywhere, not just in the sky, or in the myths and legends of the ancients, but in art and poetry, in architecture, in ceremony…

For this week’s “Storyteller’s Night Sky”, I’ve been looking for stars in one of my favorite places: the nursery rhymes of A.A. Milne, most famously known for his stories of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh.

There’s a cosmic conspiracy setting up for all Valentines this week, and it includes the star that marks the heart of the lion, the star of a king, and the goddess of love and beauty.

First there’s Regulus, the star at the heart of Leo, the Lion, once considered the King of Heaven and lately cast into shadow by the penumbral eclipse.

Did you know that there’s not always a Full Moon in February, and that only once every ten years can the February Full Moon be eclipsed? 

Next year, there will be no Full Moon in the month of February, and this year, the Full Moon, which comes this Friday, the 10th, will move through the outer edge of Earth’s shadow, causing what’s called a “penumbral eclipse.”

 


We’re nearly halfway through the season of winter this week, and the Moon is lifting the veil on a significant moment in the romantic narrative that’s been playing out over the western horizon for several months now…

On Sunday Mars crossed the celestial equator, which is the spot that marks the point of Vernal Equinox. This means we can imagine that Mars has emerged into the upper world.

There are some fascinating differences between Chinese and Western astrological traditions, and since Friday’s New Moon inaugurates the Chinese New Year of the Rooster, it’s a good time to consider those differences.

Tradition holds that the coldest night of the year will happen this week Friday, January 20th, which is known as the “Eve of St. Agnes.”

If you watch the Moon this week, dancing through the snow clouds, you’ll notice that it’s getting higher and higher in the nighttime sky, all the way until overnight Wednesday, when it mounts itself toward Full Phase Thursday morning and becomes the highest Full Moon of the year.

It’s a New Year, so it’s time to start a new trend I’ll call “Super Earth!”

So “Super Earth” is not really a fabrication, especially if you put it in the context of the “Super Moon” craze that’s been going on!  A Super Moon is technically known as Perigee Moon, or Moon closest to Earth, which happens every month.

It's Winter Solstice this week, at 5: 44 am Wednesday, December 21st, when the Sun reaches the point furthest below the celestial equator and there is a deep inner pause in the yearly breathing process.

The Sky is Falling: This Week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 12, 2016

Despite another “Super Moon” and the Geminid Meteor Shower this week, I’d like to talk about the constellation Ursa Major, and its better-known asterism the Big Dipper.

It’s December, which means it’s time for the annual discourse about whether or not there really was a Christmas Star, so here’s my “Storyteller’s Night Sky” perspective.  

With the New Moon on Tuesday, November 29th, and the inner planets serving as the Moon's footpath, this will be a spectacular week of early evening stargazing.

The Moon is new Tuesday at 7:18 am, which means it might be possible to see the thin crescent as early as Wednesday evening, about 40 minutes after sunset. The Moon will be just to the right of the planet Mercury, and both of them will be very close to the horizon, in the west.

What sign are you? This week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Nov 21, 2016

We’re drawing toward the end of November, which means that now, the signs of the zodiac start to get all mixed up.

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