Stars in Our Eyes

There appears to have been a lot of stars around recently.  The high street is full of stars – green and blue light – there are stars on goods in shops to encourage us that they are a bargin and we are putting the stars  from the tops pf our trees away.

And lovers of the night sky had a treat last month when on Monday 13th December night the clear conditions gave for one of the best astronomical shows of the year.

Some experts believe the annual Geminid meteor shower is becoming more spectacular – though if it is, nobody is sure why – and with cloudless skies possible in many parts of the country, this year’s event could be a particularly memorable one.

At its peak and in a clear, dark sky, up to 100  meteros or shooting stars – may be seen every hour. The best time to see it is expected to be late on Monday night and in the early hours of Tuesday after the moon has set.

Called the Geminid meteor shower because the outer space objects originate from the Gemini constellation, the debris is material from what is now believed to be an extinct comet. The Earth passes through it every year during December.

The meteors cause streaks of light that flash through the sky as they burn up in the atmosphere for a night of ‘shooting stars.’

A Geminid meteor streaks across the sky over the Mojave Desert in 2009.

This week we have seen Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain host three days of live stargazing featuring epic images from observatories around the globe on BBC Two. On the first episode we heard about the movement of Uranus and Jupiter and if you had a clear sky you could have seen them.  Then On Tuesday the weather allowed only a few people to see a partial eclipse of the Sun.

Shooting stars, comets, and the movement of planets in the sky have always fascinated people.  For centuries people have been fascinated about what happens above us in the heavens. 

For example, every seventy-six years, Haley’s comet came speeding by the earth.  In 1910, it came within 14 million miles of the earth and it was unusually bright in the sky that year.  Normally, Haley’s comet is 40 miles from earth, but in 1910, it was only 14 million miles away from us, lighting up the sky each night with brilliant clarity.  And people were afraid.  Substantiated rumour said that the comet gave off comet gas, a poisonous comet gas, and therefore financial hucksters were selling comet pills to protect the populations below from comet gases that would penetrate our atmosphere.   

Seventy-six years later, it was different, but money still was to be made.  In 1986, the best place on earth to witness Haley’s comet was in Australia and New Zealand, and it became commercial “show time.”  Every motel room sold out.  So many rooms were in demand that the government appealed to citizens to rent out their homes to tourists to come and see the magnificent site of Haley’s comet

Yes, people past and present have been fascinated about comets and shooting stars and signs in the heavens.

The Magi, by He Qi, China

And this week we celebrated in the Christian Church Epiphany – the arrival of the magi from the East who followed a star. Followed by the magi before it settled over Bethlehem scientists have sought to explain the star for example it in 7 BC, there was interplay between the two planets, Jupiter and Saturn.  The two planets interwove in and out with each other.  It happens every 800 years, e.g. about 800 AD, 1600 AD, and also in 7BC – was it that star? Does it really matter?

I was struck on the first episode of Stargazing that Jonathan Ross admitted to having at least 3 big telescopes and that he didn’t know how to use them.  Our local camera shop had five telescopes in the window this week on Monday and none by Thursday.  The experts suggested that Jonathan Ross should start by using the naked eye and learn to recognise the sky before using technology to help – maybe there is a lesson for us in that – it takes time to get to know the night sky and is better done without rushing in using technology.  How often in other parts of our lives do we use technology rather than spend time to understand something?

About Sarah Mullally

If you wanted a blog run by an experienced blogger look elsewhere - I am a beginner. I am a mum, Cathedral Canon, Dame and poor potter - welcome.
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