Tip o' the Week #63 - Stars Get in Your Eyes
I remember when I first came to Glastonbury in the early eighties, one of the best astrologers I have ever known, Palden Jenkins, told me that the reality - at that time - was that the vast majority of astrologers didn't know anything about the actual stars in the heavens! I know that there are exceptions to this bit of calumny - for example, Kelley Hunter, the astrologer in America who I worked with in the late eighties to organise The Roots of Astrology now leads star evenings in the Caribbean.
But it isn't just astrologers who don't seem to know about the stars and planets. The other day, I was talking with my old friend Ros Briagha who lives in Wales and runs the Oak Dragon School of Initiation to the Earth Mysteries. She told me that she had recently had a phone call from a young woman in London inquiring about the school and asked, "Can you actually see any stars there? (i.e. in Wales)"!! London's fog-cutting orange lights are very effective at cutting out the visibility of all but the very brightest planets. :_ (
As far as the heavenly bodies are concerned, I suspect that most people (and I sadly include perhaps many readers of this Tip o' the Week) can identify the Sun, the Moon and maybe the Big Dipper/The Plough. For example, as I write this (mid-June 2010) here in Glastonbury, I can see Venus, Mars, and Saturn. Here is a visible planetary diagram for just after sunset on 24 June, 2010:
Planets from left to right
Saturn (in the South West), Mars & Venus (in the West)
The Moon is full on 26 June, so it is rising in the North East.
Planets visible at around 9:30 pm in Glastonbury just after the Summer Solstice in June 2010. Look to the NorthWest where the Sun just set, and go up the ecliptic (the path the Sun travels on) and to the SouthWest between Leo and Virgo. The Moon is full on the 24th, and will be just rising in the NorthEast. I have not put it on this map as it moves lots each day, and I trust that you know the Moon when you see it ; )
Now, how might you go about learning more about the planets, constellations and visible stars? By far IMHO, the best book to get is The Stars: A New Way to See Them. by H.A, Rey, author of the Curious George books. BE SURE TO GET THE LATEST EDITION as there is a section that will tell you what planets are where for each month of the year, and that information in older editions will be out of date. (See below for an example of what this book can help you do.)
There are a number of programs you can get for your computer which will tell you significantly more than you will ever need to know if all you want to learn are the visible stars and planets. Here are several: Voyager 4.5 DVD ($179.95) SkyGazer 4.5 ($49.95) both by Carina Software, Starry Night Pro Plus 6 ($249.95), and Stellarium <http://www.stellarium.org/> (free open source software).
SkyVoyager - Carina Software
For the iPhone, iPad and iTouch
But for me, by far the best way today to learn about the visible heavenly stars and planets is with an iPhone 4 plus an App called SkyVoyager ($14.99) SkyVoyager is the most expensive App I've ever bought, but IMHO it is well worth the initial investment because it helps you locate the planets more easily when you can also see the path they travel on. But here's the most important thing: When you are outside and looking at the heavens with SkyVoyager and an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, the sky is shown in the same direction that you are holding the phone! What could be easier?!!
In addition to the planets, it is also important for people who are in to the Earth Mysteries to be able to find True North. Can you find the Big Dipper? Follow the pointer stars (Merak and Dubhe) to Polaris - in the tail of the little dipper. Point to it, and drop your arm to the Earth. That's True North.
This is an example of how hlpful H.A. Rey's book
The Stars: A New Way to See Them
can be in finding stars and constellations.
As a matter of fact, this is the place to begin.
The follow the other illustrations that can point you to new constellations.
Oh No! There's Homework!
Hey! Here's your homework! If you don't know your stars, begin by getting one of the resources I've mentioned above. Then go out and find the Plough and Polaris. Then go for the planets starting with the brightest one, Venus. Follow that curve up and to the South until you come to a bright red one is Mars. Just before you come to the Red Planet, you will come to the bright star that marks Leo's paw (Regulus). Saturn's a bit farther along that arc, half way between Leo and Virgo.
If you have never known that you were actually looking at Mars or Saturn before, please do this on the next clear evening shortly after sunset. Around the Summer Solstice <http://www.geomancy.org/astronomy/quarter-and-cross-quarter-days/summer-solstice/index.php>, at the latitude of Glastonbury where I live (51°N), the sun is setting at around 21.30, or 9:30 pm BST. It's the experience of actually connecting with the heavens that's important here, not the knowledge of how to do it. This is Gnowing.
Oh yes. For those of you who have already experienced these particular stars and planets, I challenge you to figure out how to find two constellations you don't already know. Also, how will you gnow how to find them in the future?
To the Fruitful Search!*
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Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8JE
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* Indago Felix, "To the Fruitful Search," is the motto of the American Society of Dowsers.