Sky Watch

On the night of November 16th/17th the Leonid Meteor Shower will peak in the wee hours of the morning. This shower is maddeningly unpredictable. In 1933, it was described as 'like a child's sparkler held against the sky.' In 1966 it burst forth over the central western states in the greatest meteor display in recorded history. In other years, it has failed to show up at all.

The Leonid's are the stuff of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, first seen in the United States from the rooftop of the Naval Observatory by Horace P. Tuttle, just as the Civil War ended. Given permission by the Superintendent to put his comet-seeking telescope on the Observatory roof, this curious little man was an inveterate comet hunter.

Read more about Novembers Meteors and other Sky Lore here....

Category: SkyWatch
Posted by: feltch

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The Full Moon of November was called in Colonial times the Frosty or Snow Moon. The Hopi Indians knew it as the Initiate Moon, the Algonquin called it the Beaver Moon, and the Lakota Sioux called it the Moon of the Falling Leaves.

Category: SkyWatch
Posted by: feltch

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Apollo 8December 21st (2009) is the 41st anniversary of Apollo 8, the first manned flight to the Moon.

On that day astronauts Lovell, Anders and Borman left the Earth for a 6 day mission to the moon for a live close-up view, as well as the first complete look at the Earth from such distances.

Their photographs of a blue and white watery world against an inky blackness, and that of "Earthrise" over the lunar limb were wondrous, and sparked an increased enthusiasm for the manned space program. Seven months later Apollo 11 set off for the first manned landing on the moon.

Armstrong and Aldrin touched down at Tranquility Base (under the Man in the Moon's left eye) on July 20th, 1969, while Collins orbited above them. A dream was achieved: man had set foot on the moon. Over the next several years we visited the Moon 6 more times.

The end of the era was marked 16 years ago on December 19th, when the last lunar lander mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. We are long overdue.


The Winter Solstice

The most popular of the ancient pagan celebrations was this, the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. An anniversary painlessly transferred in early Christian times to the birth of Christ, biblical evidence suggests a date to the contrary. Astronomically speaking, it is Midwinter.

On December 21st, 2009 at 12:47 PM EST, the Sun will reach its lowest point up off the horizon at local high noon, and from this day on until the June Solstice, it will only climb higher in our sky, bringing warmth and life to the Earth. The Romans celebrated the Solstice on December 25th, and the preceding week was the Saturnalia, a raucous week of merrymaking, social revelling and debauchery. Try as they might, the Medieval Church never did get rid of all of the paganism attached to the holiday.

In Britain and Northern Europe, Christmas took on many of the customs of the ancient Germanic midwinter feast of Yule -- wassailing, mumming, burning the Yule log, and bringing in the holly, ivy and mistletoe -- all magical plants bearing fruit in a dead season.

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I'll bet you had no idea that decorating with holly wasn't something brought to us by House & Garden Magazine!

Wassail is from the Anglo-Saxon, Waes Heil, literally Be Whole! or Be Healthy! The essence of this old custom was to drink to mutual health from a mutual bowl of hot ale, apples, sugar and nutmeg. In the old days the bowl was carried through the village from house to house by the poor, who first sang at the door to gain entrance. Once inside, the owner of the house was expected to freshen the bowl with good ale, and drop coins in the palms of the wassailers. You can see where the Christian custom of caroling from door to door came from.

Mumming (from the Germanic mummen--a mask) was the enactment of a silent play in disguises, stemming from an even earlier belief in the midwinter visits of fertility spirits. In 1377, King Richard II was visited by mummers who dined, played dice and danced with him, all apparently without uttering a word.

One of the original reasons for the midwinter fires was, of course, to encourage the slowly returning Sun. Great bonfires were lit on every hill surrounding the villages. The lighting of fires or lights around this time of year is a tradition almost universal in the northern hemisphere. We still do it. Like it or not, we are an atavistic species that celebrates light with light.

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