Archive for February, 2010

Our winter almanac 26.02.2010 – 05.03.2010

Posted in astronomical time on February 26, 2010 by espacelab

Sunset in Basingstoke 27.02.2010

Sunset on 27.02.2010 marks the beginning of the Jewish festival of Purim, the word Pûrîm meaning “lots”, and commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman‘s plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews but his plans were foiled by Esther, his queen.

Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the sixth month of the civil year and the twelfth month of the religious year on the Hebrew calendar which is a lunisolar calendar, a calendar in many cultures whose date indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year.

The Spring Festival of Holi 28.02.2010
Holi, also called the Festival of Colours, is a spring festival celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and others. It is celebrated all over the world where people from India, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have moved over the years. Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna (February/March). Lunar calendars are important for marking the time of festivals in many parts of the world.

Moon based calendars and the luni-solar year
Moon based calendars, because they make a twelve month year of 354 days, run 11 days fast. This means that in just 16 years there is a flip-flopping reversal of the summer and winter solstices. The seasons and the months would always be drifting apart unless a way was found to make an adjustment to the lunar calendar. In around 432 BC the ancient Babylonians calculated that seven years of thirteen lunar months followed by twelve years of twelve lunar months would equal nineteen solar years. This complicated system is called a ‘luni-solar’ year.

Barsana in Uttar Pradesh, India is the place to be at the time of Holi. Here the famous Lath mar Holi is played in the sprawling compound of the Radha Rani temple. Thousands gather to witness the Lath Mar holi when women beat up men with sticks as those on the sidelines become excited, sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna. The Holi songs of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj Bhasha.

Sikh festival of Hola Mahalla
Hola Mahalla begins on the first day of the lunar month of Chet in the Nanakshahi calendar and follows the Hindu festival of colours, Holi. Guru Gobind Singh started this festival as a day for Sikhs to practise their military exercises and hold mock battles.

Today, Sikhs celebrate by watching and partaking in martial arts parades, led by the nishan sahibs of the Gurdwaras. These are followed by poetry readings and music.

The Chinese Lantern Festival
The fifteenth day of the first lunar month is 28.02.2010 and marks the end of the Chinese Spring Festival. The 15th day of the 1st lunar month is the Chinese Lantern Festival because the first lunar month is called yuan-month and in the ancient times people called night Xiao. The 15th day is the first night to see a full moon. So the day is also called Yuan Xiao Festival in China. According to the Chinese tradition, at the very beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, there should be thousands of bright coloured lanterns hung out for people to enjoy.

Milad un Nabi marks the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslim parents will tell stories of the Prophet’s life to their children. Those Muslims who celebrate this festival this Wednesday 03.03.2010 do so joyfully.

The Sun
The Sun is our nearest star. Life on our planet depends on the light and energy that comes from our Sun.

Observing our nearest star helps us understand more distant stars. Astronomers use very special instruments and equipment to study the Sun. Astronomers never look directly at the Sun and however interested you are in observing the Sun you must

If you look at the sun with the naked eye, even if you are wearing dark glasses, you will damage your eyes causing permanent blindness.

This week there are two observable sunspots numbered 1050 and 1051. They are “quiet” and pose no immediate threat for strong solar flares. Most flares occur in active regions around sunspots, where intense magnetic fields penetrate the photosphere to link the corona to the solar interior. Flares are powered by the sudden release of magnetic energy stored in the corona.

Two successive photos of a solar flare phenomenon evolving on the sun.

A sunspot is a dark patch that appears on the Sun’s surface. Sunspots are cooler than the rest of the surface of the Sun. The temperature of the yellow surface of the Sun is about 5,500 degrees centigrade. Sunspots are caused by magnetic fields shaped like coiled tubes that rise from the interior of the Sun. Sunspots usually appear in pairs or in groups. They are very large, usually more than 30,000 miles across. At this time last year there was a sunspot on the Sun which was estimated to be 13 times larger than the surface area of the Earth.

Apparent references to sunspots were made by Chinese astronomers in 28 B.C. who probably could see the largest groups of spots when the wind-borne dust filtered the sun’s glare in Central Asian deserts. A large sunspot was also seen at the time of Charlemagne’s death in A.D. 813. On 17 March 807 the Benedictine monk Adelmus observed a large sunspot, which was visible for eight days.

Sunspot activity in 1129 was described by John of Worcester.

Sunspots appear to quickly rise and more slowly fall on an irregular cycle of 11 years. Over the last decades the Sun has had a markedly high average level of sunspot activity. It was last similarly active over 8,000 years ago.

Aurora Borealis – the “Northern Lights”
During these periods the Sun sends out a lot more of the huge loops of gas astronomers call prominences. When sunspots erupt they send a flare of solar radiation that reaches the Earth in a matter of minutes. These explosions also send out a blast of electrically charged particles that are carried on the solar wind.

View of the Aurora Borealis from the International Space Station (ISS).. The effect is known as the aurora borealis, and was named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for north wind, Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi in 1621.

The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from any harmful cosmic rays. The charged particles blasted from the Sun are attracted to the north and south magnetic poles of our planet. When they pass into our atmosphere the gas in our atmosphere begins to glow in spectacular light patterns across the northern and southern night skies. In our part of the planet they are called the northern lights. This cosmic light show is sometimes visible as far south as southern England, but is more often seen in the night skies of Scotland.

This photo was taken near Bear Lake in the US state of Alaska relatively close to the Magnetic North Pole, where the aurora effects can be visually spectacular.

Little Bear
Ursa Minor is the constellation where you can find the “Pole Star”, or “Polar Star” Polaris. Polaris lies within a degree of the north celestial pole, and has always been of immense help to navigators on land, sea and in the air to find the Cardinal Direction North. Another name for Polaris is Lodestar. Lode is an old word for way or path and is etymologically related to the verb to lead – lodestars serve as a guide to navigators, as do lodestones, naturally magnetic stones historically used in compasses. The lodestar Polaris in particular is an essential element of the definition of the Cardinal directions used in modern cartography and compasses.

Ursa Minor is commonly visualized as a baby bear with an unusually long tail. The tail was said to have been lengthened from that usually expected for a bear, due to its being held by the tail and spun around the pole.

Ursa Minor and Ursa Major were related by the Greeks to the myth of Callisto and Arcas.

However, in a variant of the story, in which it is Boötes that represents Arcas, Ursa Minor was considered to represent a dog. This is the older tradition which sensibly explains both the length of the tail and the obsolete alternate name of Cynosura (the dog’s tail) for Polaris, the North Star.

Ursa Minor was the Constellation Logo for Kempshott School

One of the Pupils from Kempshott came up with a new identity for the constellation “little bear”!

Kempshott 05.03.2010


Our winter almanac 19.02.2010 – 25.02.2010

Posted in astronomical time on February 19, 2010 by espacelab

Signs of Spring

The season of winter is still with us, but there are signs of spring growth in the appearance of snowdrops, daffodils and the crocus.

The ancient Greek poet Hesiod, writes about this time of year in his poem ‘Works and Days’. Hesiod speaks of Zeus completing the sixty days of winter after the winter solstice, and of how we can see the star Arcturus rising at dusk out of the Ocean Stream that surrounds all the lands of Earth. Then he speaks of a time when the swallows come, or Pandion’s daughter, as he calls the swallow, named after Philomela who was changed into a swallow in a tragic tale.

When Zeus has finished sixty wintry days after the solstice, then the star Arcturus leaves the holy stream of Ocean and first rises brilliant at dusk. After him the shrilly wailing daughter of Pandion, the swallow, appears to men when spring is just
beginning. Before she comes, prune the vines, for it is best so.

The star Arcturus and the swallow are signs of spring, but he tells us not to wait for the arrival of the swallow, but to go and prune the vines now!

The star Arcturus is visible low on the eastern horizon about 23h (11pm) as one of the stars that make the star pattern of Bootes the Herdsman. As spring arrives it stands out more and more in the north-eastern sky after sunset. The ancient Greeks, like the poet Hesiod, looked to the appearance of stars in the night sky as a sign of the changing year.

The star Arcturus stands out among the many visible stars in the night sky as the brightest star in the northern hemisphere of the sky. This is why the appearance of Arcturus had such importance for people like Hesiod, because it is a clear and easily identifiable sign of the coming of spring, and a reminder to people who depend on growing crops for a living to prune the vines ready for the spring growth.

Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes. It is also the third brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius and Canopus. It is, however, fainter than the combined light of the two main components of Alpha Centauri, which are too close together for the eye to resolve as separate sources of light, making Arcturus appear to be the fourth brightest. It is the second brightest star visible from northern latitudes and the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere.

Arcturus is an orange giant star. A giant star is a star with substantially larger radius and luminosity than a main sequence star of the same surface temperature. Typically, giant stars have radii between 10 and 100 solar radii and luminosities between 10 and 1,000 times that of the Sun.

In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars seen in Earth’s sky which is not an official constellation. Like constellations, they are composed of stars which, while they are in the same general direction, are not physically related, often being at significantly different distances from Earth. An asterism may be composed of stars from one or more constellations. Their mostly simple shapes and few stars make these patterns easy to identify, and thus particularly useful to those just learning to orient themselves when viewing the night sky.

Winter Hexagon
The Winter Hexagon is an asterism appearing to be in the form of a hexagon with vertices at Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux/Castor, Procyon, and Sirius.

Gemini was the Constellation logo for Castle Hill School.. Gemini is one of the official constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for “twins”, and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology. In the myth the twins shared the same mother but had different fathers which meant that Pollux was immortal and Castor was mortal. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the Gemini constellation.

Gemini is dominated by Castor and Pollux, two bright stars that appear relatively close together, encouraging the mythological link between the constellation and twinship. The twin to the right is Castor, whose brightest star is α Geminorum (more commonly called Castor), is of the second magnitude, and represents Castor’s head. The twin to the left is Pollux, whose brightest star is β Geminorum (more commonly called Pollux), is of the first magnitude, and represents Pollux’s head. Furthermore, the other stars can be visualized as two parallel lines descending from the two main stars, making it look like two figures.

For one of Castle Hill’s students the arrangement of stars became the constellation Bart!

Winklebury on 25.02.2010 with the crocus bringing us a sign of spring.

Our winter almanac 12.02.2010 – 18.02.2010

Posted in astronomical time on February 12, 2010 by espacelab

Mahashivratri, is a Hindu festival that takes place this year on 12.02.2010 and is dedicated to Shiva, who destroys the universe, one of the deities of the Hindu Trinity. While most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, Mahashivratri is celebrated during the night and day that come just before the new moon.

Each new moon is dedicated to Shiva, but Mahashivratri is especially important because it is the night when he danced the ‘Tandav’, his cosmic dance.

It also celebrates the wedding of Shiva and Sati, the mother divine. Night represents evil, injustice, ignorance, sin, violence, and misfortune.

Tradition says that Shiva, like his symbol the new moon, appeared in order to save the world from darkness and ignorance, before the world entered complete darkness.

Looking for constellations
The following constellations are near the meridian on February 14 at 21h ; Auriga, Taurus, Gemini, Orion, Canis Minor and Canis Major.

Canis Minor is a small constellation. It was included in the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy‘s 48 constellations, and is still included among the 88 modern constellations. Its name is Latin for “smaller dog” in contrast to Canis Major, the larger dog, and it is commonly represented as one of the dogs following the constellation of Orion the hunter.

Canis Minor was the Constellation Logo for Chalk Ridge School.

One of the schoolchildren at Chalk Ridge School came up with brilliant modern version for the constellation Canis Minor.

Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. To the naked eye, it appears to be a single star, the seventh brightest in the night sky with a visual apparent magnitude of 0.34. It is actually a binary star system, consisting of a white main sequence star of spectral type F5 IV-V, named Procyon A, and a faint white dwarf companion of spectral type DA, named Procyon B. The reason for its brightness is not its intrinsic luminosity but its closeness to the Sun; at a distance of 3.5 pc or 11.41 light years, Procyon is one of our near neighbours.

A Moveable Feast
Pancake Day is on Shrove Tuesday, February 16 2010, and is the traditional feast before the forty days of fasting that leads up to the celebration of Easter Day.

Carnival is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are happening this weekend in places like Cologne, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad and Tobago and New Orleans. Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, masque and public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning of daily life.

Carnevale in Venice – Sun and Moon?. The origin of the name “carnival” is unclear. Perhaps the name comes from the Italian carne levare or similar, meaning “to remove meat”, since meat is prohibited during Lent. Or, perhaps the word comes from the Late Latin expression carne vale, which means “farewell to meat”, signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. Another possibility is carne vale as “a farewell to the flesh”, a phrase embraced by certain carnival celebrations that encourage letting go of your former (or everyday) self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival.

Another possible explanation comes from the term “Carrus Navalis” (ship cart), the name of the roman festival of Isis, where her image was carried to the sea-shore to bless the start of the sailing season. The festival involved a parade of masks following an adorned wooden boat, not unlike the floats of modern carnivals.

The Moon and the Sun set the calendar

The date for Easter Day is set by the old tradition in Judaism, whereby the time for celebrating the Passover is governed by the appearance of the full moon. The Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar, using both the Sun and the Moon to set the months and years. Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon which happens on, or after, March 21, the time of the spring equinox. If the full moon happens on a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after.

The forty days of fasting before easter begins on Ash Wednesday this week. This period is called Lent, after the Teutonic word for the spring season. The Latin word for this fast is Quadragesima, which means the ‘forty days’.

Moon time
The Moon has always been important in the setting of religious festivals, and is sometimes revered as a deity. The ancient Egyptians called their moon god Khonsu.

The ancient Sumerians called their moon Nanna.

The ancient Greeks and Romans had three names for the moon goddess, and these names were connected to the three main shapes of the moon. The new moon was called Hecate.

The half moon shape, or waxing moon, was called Artemis or Diana.

The full moon was called Selene or Luna.

The Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
This week sees a new year begin in China, and the celebrations are known as the Spring Festival. Each year in the Chinese calendar is associated with one of these twelve animals: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat or sheep, the monkey, the chicken or rooster, the dog and the pig.

Taoist symbols carved in stone: yin-yang and animals of the Chinese zodiac. Qingyanggong temple, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. The word 道, Tao (or Dao, depending on the romanization scheme), literally translated as “path” or “way”, although in Chinese folk religion and philosophy it carries more abstract meanings. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos (天人相应), health and longevity, and wu wei (action through inaction), which is thought to produce harmony with the universe.

So, February 14 2010 marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Tiger. The traditional Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, and was the sole calendar in use up until 1911, when the government adopted the new Gregorian calendar for official and business activities. A lunisolar calendar is a calendar found in many cultures, where dates are organized by both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. In the Chinese calendar, the winter solstice must occur in the 11th month, which means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

16 days of celebration and traditional foods
The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year’s Eve is known as chú xī. It literally means “Year-pass Eve”. The biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve is the dinner every family will have. A dish consisting of fish will appear on the tables of Chinese families. It is like Christmas dinner in the West. In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings (jiaozi 饺子) after dinner and have them around midnight.

Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape is like a Chinese tael, a weight used as coinage. In the South, it people make a new year cake (Niangao, 年糕) after dinner and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days of the new year. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out. After the dinner, some families go to local temples, hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; meanwhile many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new lunar year.

Lighting the first incense of the year.

These decorative gifts for the Chinese New Year resemble the old currency called the sycee. A sycee was a type of silver or gold ingot currency used in China until the 20th century.

Winter colours in the hedges near Chalk Ridge School 18.02.2010.

Our winter almanac 05.02.2010 – 11.02.2010

Posted in astronomical time on February 5, 2010 by espacelab

The Planets and our Seven Day Week
In the 4th century AD the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. This meant that Christians were free from persecution, and that Sunday became a holy day in a new seven-day week.

In the year 321 AD Constantine made the Sun’s day when all citizens, except farmers, should rest from work and worship the god of their choice. Up until this time Saturday, or Saturn’s day, was the holy day for Romans and the sabbath day for the Jews.

Saturn is a huge planet in our solar system, this image gives a comparison of the size of Saturn to the Earth.

The planets of our Solar System .

The new seven-day week was accepted very widely because the number 7 was important to the very popular belief in astrology among the ancient Romans. Astrology as a belief originated in the lands of the middle-east called Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamia in ancient Greek means “land between the rivers” and is now the country of Iraq.

The idea behind astrology is that the movements of the planets have some influence on the events of everyday life on planet Earth. People believed that each of the seven planets that were known in those days, and which for them included the Sun and the Moon, controlled a day of the week. This idea began around 700 BC in Babylon, and produced a system that determined the order of the days of the week. The number 7 was treated as a magical number, but it was the division of the day into 24 hours that explains how people in ancient times worked out which planet ruled each day of the week.

Saturn controlled the first hour of Saturn’s day, followed in its second hour by Jupiter, then by Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. In the eighth hour the cycle started again with Saturn, and this was repeated until the twentyfourth hour of the day, which falls on the hour of Mars. This meant that the first hour of the new day belongs to the Sun, so the day after Saturn’s day was called the Sun’s day. In the old Roman city of Pompeii archaeologists have found a pair of diagrams drawn on a wall that would have been used to work out how the hours and the days were connected to the planets.

The order of the week days can be derived “geometrically” from an acute heptagram, the star polygon. The luminaries are arranged in the same Ptolemaic/Stoic order around the points of the heptagram. Tracing the unicursal line from one planet to the next gives the order of the weekdays.

The seven-day week did not come to Britain until the time the Angle-Saxons came to settle in Angleland, or England, in the 5th century AD. The Saxons used some of the Roman gods to name some of the days of the week, but introduced their own gods to name Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tuesday comes from the Anglo-Saxon Tiw, Wednesday from Woden, Thursday from Thor, and Friday from Freya.

In the French names of the days of the week we can see how the Roman names are used to this day. Monday is lundi, named after Luna, the Moon. Tuesday is mardi, named after Mars. Wednesday is mercredi, named after Mercury. Thursday is jeudi, named after Jupiter, and Friday is vendredi, named after Venus.

The Constellation Taurus

Taurus was the Constellation Logo for Manor Field School.

Taurus, the Bull, is visible in our winter night skies.

Grey skies of winter but with a patch of blue near Manor Field School 11.02.2010.