280: Rarely have the heavens so proclaimed their glory
Day 280: December 21st 2020
Rarely have the heavens so proclaimed their glory.
“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
― Carl Sagan, Contact
We have now arrived at the longest, darkest night of the longest, darkest year. And yet rarely have the heavens so proclaimed their glory. There is reason for Joy!
Last week the sun and the moon last week lined up in a perfect cue-ball shot to produce a total solar eclipse. The moon’s shadow slid across Argentina and Chile, and the majestic but shy mandala known as the solar corona revealed itself to crowds who had braved rain and fog in anticipation of the sight.
Meanwhile, the Geminiad Metero Shower graced the Northern Hemisphere with celestial brush strokes of fire. And as always there is the brilliance of the winter Milky Way, starring Orion.
Now comes one of the grandest events of the sky: a planetary conjunction.
For the past year, Jupiter and Saturn have been dancing ever closer in the night sky. On the evening of Dec. 21, the very nadir of winter, they will be so close — one-tenth of one angular degree — that if your eyes are as bad as mine, they will appear as one blurry, bright planet. With a little optical aid you should be able to discern them as separate orbs, almost kissing, although Jupiter will be 450 million miles in front of the ringed Saturn.
Go out and look southwest in the hour after sunset. According to astronomers, the two planets have not appeared this close to each other in the sky since 1623 — but the sun’s glare then would have rendered them invisible. To find a conjunction that humans could see, you must skip all the way back to 1226, or ahead to March 15, 2080. You might wonder who will be around to witness that event.
Every 20 years, Jupiter and Saturn come into conjunction — appearing within a couple of degrees from each other, about the width of three full moons.
Such conjunctions of planets are rich with psychic meaning to astrologers. And some astronomers have speculated that a conjunction involving Jupiter, Venus and the star Regulus in the years 2-3 B.C. might have inspired the stories of the star of Bethlehem. Even the planets, it seems, proclaimed the coming of Emmanuel, Wonder Counselor, Prince of Peace.
Saturn and Jupiter have been inching closer to each other all year, and next week will be close enough to appear as one.
In the grand scheme of things, the universe is young. It was born in an eruption of energy 13.8 billion years ago. Its future, as far as we know, is endless, but everything interesting that will ever happen is happening now. This is the era of light, stars and galaxies; of humans crawling around on dust motes, constructing telescopes and other intellectual pyramids, driven at least in part by wonder at the surroundings.
Carl Sagan looked at a picture of the earth - our tiny blue dot - and reminds us of the vast scale of the universe and our responsibility to protect our home with kindness and love.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Odds are, whoever or whatever lives out there will never know that we were here at all, nor will we know them. But we know who we are. We know that we are alive now. We know whom we loved and whom we lost. Maybe that’s enough to ask of any universe.
- much of this reflection is taken from an article by Dennis Overby
The Starlight Night
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves'-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then! — What? — Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.
André Rieu - Ode to Joy (All men shall be brothers)
Train - Drops of Jupiter (Official Video)
Alicia Keys performing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" in honor of Kobe Bryant