Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remembering a Winter Solstice

The sky overhead brightened from black to indigo to that bright purple of dawning to ordinary blue. The red band in the East faded from bright red to the pale color of corned beef. As the pink sky faded, a robin gave its morning cry, answered by the insistent “teacher, teacher, teacher” of a tufted titmouse. The red leaves of the maples and the yellow leaves of the tulip poplar have faded and fallen. The greens of pines and cedars remain to offset the brown oaks which will hold their leaves into winter and spring. Back inside I saw a slip of orange sky above the horizon. It grew and rose as the day progressed. Then the whole round sun was above the horizon. Dawn had long since given way to daylight. In the new light of day I noticed a venerable old oak visible from my kitchen window. It held several green balls of mistletoe. That night I tried some binocular and naked eye astronomy. Orion shone above the eastern horizon. With binoculars, the individual stars were just points of light, except the central one in the sword. This one was a diffuse smudge – the Orion Nebula, M42 in the language of astronomers. The nebula is a stellar nursery, a gas cloud where conditions are proper for formation of new stars. I have seen this nebula through small telescopes which revealed a cluster of four stars in a trapezoid shape. These young stars from the Trapezium, listed as Theta-One Orinis in Burnhams Celestial Handbook. Taurus seemed faint in comparison to its surrounding constellations. I trained my binoculars on Aldebaran, the red star in the lower left corner, and saw it surrounded by a wispy halo. A band of haze must account for that halo and the dimness of the constellation. The Pleiades were as bright as ever. In Japan they are known as Subaru, and I ponder how many drivers in English speaking countries notice the stars surrounding the name plate on automobiles that bear the constellation's name. Have they ever wondered what those stars have to do with Subaru?. I saw six stars in Suburu with my naked eye. The six become fifty or so with my binoculars. Above the Pleiades I saw a very bright object, orange in the binoculars. It was undoubtedly the planet Mars, very close that year. My binoculars were not powerful enough to reveal any details of the surface, though on other occasions I have trained them on Jupiter and seen four of its moons. Auriga, The Charioteer, was visible, but Capella, its brightest star, seemed much fainter than usual. The faint triangle near Capella was not visible, apparently concealed by the same band of haze partly covering Taurus. Together, Capella and the triangle are known as the mother goat and the three kids. Cassiopeia was bright, truly a queen of the polar region. The other constellations surrounding Polaris were hidden behind the trees and the mountain. Soon Orion and his hounds would chase the bull across the sky and the springtime constellations would rise. The falling leaves of the trees had given way, and the trees thrust bare branches to the sky. Soon screech owls would nest in the woodlot near my house. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Add Comment

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