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. 

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.”

The three Georges of 1781: this week on the Night Sky

Feb 22, 2016

Today, February 22nd, is the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, and because this is “The Storyteller’s Night Sky,” I’m going to talk about how the first president of the United States is related to the stars.

 During the American Revolution, and specifically in the 1780s, there were three significant George’s in the world: King George of England, against whom the colonists were rebelling; George Washington, who was the leader of the Continental Army; and a brand new planet, discovered by William Herschel, and which he called the “Georgian Star”.

Galileo and the Moons of Jupiter: this week on the Night Sky

Feb 15, 2016

These days the news is filled with exciting reports of a new 9th planet and the first direct evidence of the astronomical phenomenon of gravitational waves, which confirm the presence of things unimaginably far away from us. But right now is the time to ask about something much closer to our celestial home, which one of my astronomy friends calls just so much “pebbles and dust”: Have you ever seen the moons of Jupiter?

Certainly you've heard that today marks the Chinese New Year of the Monkey. But to be more specific, did you know that this is actually the New Year of the Red Fire Monkey, which only comes around once every 60 years?

Groundhog's Day on the Moon: this week on the Night Sky

Feb 1, 2016

This week, it’s Ground Hog’s Day, which is the way in American culture that we celebrate the fact that we’re halfway through the season. But have you ever wondered why a sunny day casting more shadow at this time means more winter, and not less?

Last year a social media friend of mine had a brilliant idea: What if the shadow that we should be considering right now is on the Moon, and not in Pennsylvania?

What makes a planet: this week on the Night Sky

Jan 25, 2016

There’s a lot of news about the planets right now, what with all five naked-eye planets putting on a show in the morning sky, and astronomers saying they’ve discovered a new, ninth planet. So, what’s a planet to you and me anyway?

The coldest night of the year: this week on the Night Sky

Jan 18, 2016

If legend holds true, then this week we can expect the coldest night of the year, and the sweetest dreams.

In the Christian calendar, January 21st is observed as the Feast of St. Agnes, and the eve of her feast day, January 20th, as the coldest night of the year. Agnes was a 4th century virgin martyr who is associated through legend with the romance and thrill of as-yet unconsummated love. The burning desire this can create inwardly was believed to result in the coldest time of year, outwardly.

  Why are we compelled to make resolutions at the beginning of every year? Could it be that the stars have made their annual right alignment so we can take new steps?

Every year in January, the star cluster of the Pleiades sails across the zenith, or uppermost part, of the night sky. Pleiades is known as the Seven Sisters, and they are everywhere among the most noted objects in the history, poetry, and mythology of the stars.

The first-born and most beautiful of the Seven Sisters is Maia, who’s notable as the mother of Mercury, the swift-footed messenger and trickster god.

King Arthur's Gold

Jan 4, 2016

In the mystery wisdom of the world there are always references to sleeping kings that lie hidden until something stirs them to wakefulness. And here at the beginning of 2016, an astronomy event is unfolding that is like the story of one of our favorite kings waking up to reclaim his gold!

The ‘big event’ is the Comet Catalina, which can now be found hurtling toward its closest approach to Earth. This means it’s becoming more and more visible to us and you can find it looking east into the early morning sky, from 4 to 6 am.

Beauty, vanity, and hideousness in the stars

Dec 28, 2015

There’s a story lingering in the media right now that’s remarkably similar to something we see in the sky every year at the end of December, and it has to do with the role of hideousness in relation to beauty and vanity.

Less than ten days ago in Las Vegas, the Miss Universe Pageant culminated in an uncomfortable moment that, despite its intense awkwardness, certainly gave viewers the opportunity to consider the purpose of beauty in the world.

The 12 Days of Christmas

Dec 22, 2015

Did you know that the 12 days of Christmas start on December 25th and extend to January 5th, which is known as 12th night?

These days, a lot of people confuse the advent season of preparation before Christmas with the 12 days that follow Christmas, which lends itself to the frustration and let down from all that preparation for just one day.

To be a star human

Dec 14, 2015

In the sacred traditions of the people native to the Great Lakes region of North America, there's a beautiful tale about finding the date of the New Year which, if applied to this year, reveals that we can all start our new year observances as early as Wednesday, December 16th.

Unveiled Mysteries

Dec 7, 2015

This weekend the Geminid Meteor Shower comes to its peak, Sunday, December 13. The Geminid is one of our most intense meteor showers of the year, and it presents to us a celestial mystery that defies explanation, even by astronomers.  Meteor showers are caused by Earth moving through the debris trail left by a comet as it whizzes toward the Sun.

The sun is not a lonely morning star

Dec 1, 2015

  In his 19th century treatise on natural living, Henry David Thoreau wrote: "The Sun is but a morning star," but if he were composing these lines right now, it would have been hard for him to overlook the other 'goddesses of dawn' this week.

I'm Mary Stewart Adams. This is the "Storyteller's Guide to the Night Sky."