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. 

The star-spangled oak at Headlands International Dark Sky Park Edit | Remove

Summer is upon us and the Moon will be a beautiful crescent moving up the sky from the western horizon this week. But did you know that today July 4 the Earth is as far away from the Sun as it can get on its orbital path?

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.

So what story can we find in the Boötes region of the sky that might suggest that the meteor shower is his gift to humanity?

Finding your inner hero: this week on The Dark Sky

Jun 20, 2016

Today, June 20th, is Summer Solstice, when the Sun reaches its highest place above the Celestial Equator. Today the Moon also comes to full phase, and because this happens opposite the Sun, it means that today the Moon is at the lowest point, in the region of the sky where we find our galactic center.

This week the Moon grows through the evening sky toward Full Phase, passing three bright planets on the way and ending up aligned with the galactic center on Summer Solstice. 

This week’s journey of the Moon is a bit like the ancient story of the Olympian gods gathering their forces to overtake the Titans, the first generation of gods in the ancient world.

The Flower Fairy in the Stars: this week on The Dark Sky

Jun 6, 2016

When you look into the night sky this week, you’ll see a beautiful line up of planets and stars that lend themselves to a French fairy tale by the Count de Caylus from the 17th century known as “The Fairy Gifts.”

Where do the constellations come from?

May 31, 2016

Have you ever looked into the night sky and wondered what the ancients were thinking when they identified patterns that look nothing like what they are named for?

There are thousands of stars visible to the naked eye and human beings have spent thousands of years reaching toward these stars for a better understanding of life on earth.  Through all of this there are only 88 officially recognized constellations in the sky, 48 of which are holdovers from ancient times. But who made them up, and why?

When Mars moved the world: this week on The Night Sky

May 23, 2016

All the night sky talk this week is about the remarkable visibility of the planet Mars. Mars is at opposition with the Sun right now, a movement that happens only once every two years, so this is the best time in its cycle to see it.

But even though Mars is really bright right now, it would be hard for the red planet to top the dramatic moment nearly 500 years ago when its opposition to the Sun moved the world and inspired one of the most fantastic changes in human history. 

In the land of the "Storyteller's Night Sky" there's a lot of whimsy and rhyme and 'once upon a time', all meant to capture the majesty, the beauty, and the mystery of our celestial world in a way that celebrates our place within it.For several years I have been at work on a project I call "The Star Tales of Mother Goose", and here to have some fun in it with me today, as we make our way under the starry skies of May where the Mother Goose Rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle" comes to life in the constellations overhead, are Caroline Barlow (guitar/vocals) and Aliana Lee (vocals). You're invited to li

  Today, Monday, May 9, the planet Mercury is making a rare transit across the face of the Sun. It would be easy to let such an event go by, because, afterall, a transit is not easy to see the way an eclipse is, and scientists learned a long time ago all the most exciting things about Mercury that a motion like this reveals. But for the storyteller, this is a great opportunity to visit the charming world of magic, music, the mischief of secrets and the power of promises.

The closest planet to the Sun bears the Roman name “Mercury” which to the Greeks was Hermes.

Mysteries of the Mercury Transit: this week on The Night Sky

May 2, 2016

Next week the planet Mercury will do an unusual thing that it does only once every 33 years in May. It’s called a “transit” and it happens when Mercury so lines up with the Earth and the Sun that it seems to move straight across the face of the Sun. To get ready for this, I want to talk about some of the ancient mystery wisdom associated with Mercury.

With Mercury turning retrograde later this week, more than half of the planets will be in their retrograde motion, which means they appear to be moving backward (or westward) through the sky. And for me, this is the perfect set up for the mischief you might not know is associated with the eve of May 1st.


Earth Day happens later this week, on Friday, which is also coincident with the oldest meteor shower in recorded history, the Lyrid’s, which is caused by Comet Thatcher, but gets its name from the constellation Lyra.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that astronomers began to figure out that meteor showers are related to comets, but historical records show that the stars falling through the sky from the Lyrid Meteor Shower were recorded as early as 2600 years ago!

This week, like always, there are some really interesting things going on in the sky, but today I want to share how I go about finding the stories that are connected to the stars~though I confess it that this is not always a clear and simple process!

  A lot of the joy that comes from night sky doesn't involve just looking at it; it's about experiencing the incredible things the sky has inspired in human beings throughout the ages. For instance, this week brings the first New Moon of the Spring, which is a phase we can't see, but it’s a nice set up for some marvelous astronomical history.

The New Moon on Thursday, April 7, will be the closest New Moon of the year. The technical term for this is 'perigee moon', and this is the kind of Moon that causes higher tides than normal.

Rivals in the Sky: this week on the Night Sky

Mar 28, 2016

Now that we’ve come through the season of balance when day and night are of equal length at Equinox, and the season of extremes with both solar and lunar eclipses this month, next up in the sky scene is an encounter between two ancient rivals: Mars and Antares.

When you look into the southwest sky an hour before sunrise this week, you’ll see two red objects: the higher and brighter one is the red planet Mars; the lower and really flashy one is the red giant star Antares, in the heart of the constellation Scorpio.

The first day of Spring arrived yesterday when the Sun crossed the celestial equator into the northern celestial hemisphere, but have you noticed that the Spring festivals of renewal don’t happen right at that moment! These festivals only happen when the right observer comes along, and that observer is the first Full Moon of the season.

Every culture has a festival of renewal related to Spring, and in the Christian tradition, the Easter festival is observed on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Equinox.

"The days of the week wanted to have some time off so they could have a party. They were so busy the whole year round, and they were never free all at the same time; BUT every fourth year is leap year, when an extra day is added to February, to keep accounts straight. So they decided that on this day, they would have their party. And since it was in February, when Mardi Gras is, they decided to have a masquerade.”