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 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.”

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.