Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Endings And Beginnings
This is an interesting time of year to pay attention to the Zodiac constellations.
In the hours immediately after sundown the traditional ending of the Zodiac, the ‘final’ three signs, make their way into the southern sky—Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.
In the hours immediately before dawn, the traditional beginning of the Zodiac, the ‘first’ three signs, make their way into the southern sky—Aries, Taurus and Gemini.
Depending on a person’s mood, you can go out right after dark and contemplate the same stars, the same patterns, humans have contemplated for thousands of years as marking the end of an old cycle or you can get up a little early and contemplate the same stars, the same patterns, humans have contemplated for thousands of years as marking the start of a new cycle.
Putting the past behind us, embracing the future . . .
I’ve called these constellations the ‘traditional’ ending and beginning of the Zodiac because over many thousands of years, the spring equinox has slowly shifted from Aries into Pisces. However, most astronomers and many astrologers still refer to Aries as the ‘first’ sign.
The precession of the equinoxes, however, is an amazing topic to examine historically. It is a tricky and reasonably difficult concept to understand, however there is persuasive though indirect evidence that humans have known about the concept far back into prehistory. The classic book on the topic is, of course, “Hamlet’s Mill.”
There is also an obscure theory among some Christians that the Zodiac, in fact, is a Judeo-Christian ‘revelation.’ The theory is that before Moses created Scripture, God through the Holy Spirit help humans understand the basic Messiah story through pictures in the stars. The revelation, however, has been subsequently corrupted by secular astrologers. This is an interesting and intriguing theory, but I’ve never found it summarized in a book or on a website. I mention it just for completeness. If anyone clicking through here knows of a good reference for it, please post a comment or drop me an email (goblinStudies@gmail.com).
Beyond being a philosophically interesting time of year, there are a couple of pretty cool things to see in the evening and morning skies.
I made a couple of tiny watercolor sketches this morning (on watercolor paper!) of two things I checked out after sundown yesterday and before sunrise today. (I didn’t stay up, I got up early.)
Just after sundown, Capricornus is visible in the southeast sky. One of my favorite celestial sights is Beta Capricorni. This is a wide binary star that displays remarkable colors. The brighter component is a golden-orange tint, and the dimmer companion is cerulean blue. The stars are far enough apart so that at 50x you see a couple of dim field stars in the same view. The white field stars accentuate the remarkable colors of the binary system. Very beautiful. I checked it out around 8:30pm yesterday and did this watercolor sketch this morning.
Just before sunrise, Aries is visible in the southeast sky, almost exactly where Capricornus was hours earlier. Gamma Arietis, the third brightest star in the little constellation, is a binary star. It is not colorful, but it is a bright double much closer together than Beta Capricorni. I’ve read some descriptions where observers see colors in these stars, but with my little scope (60mm) at 72x I saw both components as white. Very pretty, but white.