The Storyteller's Night Sky

Every Monday morning at 6:30 and 8:30, IPR News Radio looks into the night sky with Mary Stewart Adams, Program Director of the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City. Mary talks about the moon and the stars and the mythology associated with them. 

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.

You've undoubtedly heard the November Full Moon referred to as the "super moon", because it is the closest Full Moon to Earth in nearly 70 years. But what does that mean?

The Moon's orbit around the Earth is not a circle, it's an ellipse, which means the Moon-Earth distance is always changing.

The technical name for the Moon closest to Earth is "perigee Moon". A perigee Moon can be 50,000 km closer than an apogee Moon, which is the Moon furthest away from us. 

There’s a convergence of things taking place this week on Friday, when 11.11 rolls around on the calendar, and did you know that there was a time when 11.11 marked a celebration of religious and military cooperation.

We’re at the bitter end of the campaign season, and it’s easy to feel like turning on the news is a bit like opening Pandora’s box~so I want to see if this is a valid analogy to make, given what’s happening in the sky right now.

In classical Greek Mythology, Pandora is the first woman to be created, and her name means: She who receives gifts from all the gods.

“In folklore, angels tickle harps and the Devil plays the violin. So it is hardly surprising that extraordinary musical ability in mere mortals has long been explained by way of heavenly blessings or, more frequently, dark pacts…” So begins the tale of “The Dark Fiddler ~ The Life and Legend of Nicolo Paganini”.

I recently took my stories of the stars to Davenport, Iowa, and while I was there, I visited the Figge Museum downtown, where there was a fabulous exhibit of the art of Gary Kelley, for his book on the notorious 18th century Italian violinist Paganini.

The meteor shower season continues this week with the peak of the Orionid overnight Friday to Saturday, and since Autumn is also the season for celebrating the dead, here’s an ancient myth to keep you entertained while you’re out wishing on the falling stars.

 


 

On October 5th, Venus is closest to the star Zubenelgenubi, the "alpha" or brightest star in the constellation Libra. Edit | Remove

In ancient astrological tradition, the constellation Libra is ruled by the planet Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Venus is our evening star right now, and this week it will pass very close to the brightest star in Libra, triggering the Sicilian fable “Catherine and Her Destiny.”

This week the Moon comes to New Phase ~ for the second time this month ~ which makes it a good time to talk about how the Moon moves through our sky.

The Moon moves around the Earth in roughly a circular orbit, and it completes one orbit in 27.3 days. This is called its “sidereal period.” But just because the Moon has completed one orbitdoesn’t mean that it comes right back to the same phase again…this is because over that 27.3 days, the Earth has also moved, so you could say the Moon has some “catching up” to do.

This week the Sun comes to its Autumn Equinox point, which means daylight hours grow shorter and moonlight hours increase.

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