Our winter almanac 26.02.2010 – 05.03.2010

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


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