Our winter almanac 05.03.2010 – 11.03.2010

Seven Stars make a plough
Seeing the plough in the stars of the night sky is not surprising when you consider the importance of farming to our ancestors.




The Constellation Logo for Bramley School was the Plough, known in the ancient list of constellations drawn up by the astronomer Ptolemy as Ursa Major, the Great Bear.




Ursa Major
Ursa Major is a constellation visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. Its name means the Great Bear in Latin. It is dominated by the widely recognized asterism known as the Big Dipper or Plough, which is a useful pointer toward north, and which has mythological significance in numerous world cultures.

The seven brightest stars of Ursa Major form the asterism known as the Big Dipper in the United States and Canada, or the Plough in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is also occasionally referred to as the Butcher’s Cleaver in northern England. In Ireland the figure is sometimes called the Starry Plough and has been used as a political symbol. Known as Charles his waine in some areas of England, it was formerly called by the old name Charles’ Wain (“wain” meaning “wagon,” and derived from the still older Carlswæn), as it still is in Scandinavia, Karlavagnen, Karlsvogna, or Karlsvognen. A folk etymology holds that it was named after Charlemagne, but this common Germanic name meant the men’s wagon (the churls’ wagon), in contrast to the women’s wagon (the Little Dipper). An older Odin’s Wain may have preceeded these Nordic designations. Similarly, in Romanian and most Slavic languages it is known as “the Great Wagon”, as opposed to “the Small Wagon,” the Little Dipper. In German it is called Großer Wagen (Great Cart). In Dutch, its name is Steelpannetje (saucepan). Book XVIII of Homer’s Iliad mentions it as “the Bear, which men also call the Wain.”

Ursa Major was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is mentioned by writers and poets such as Homer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and in other works of literature across the world.


Vincent Van Gogh paints this constellation in one of his pictures of the starry sky at night.

Three leaps
Another asterism is recognized in Arab culture, a series of three pairs of stars:
ν and ξ Ursae Majoris, Alula Borealis and Australis, the “first leap”;
λ and μ Ursae Majoris, Tania Borealis and Australis, the “second leap”;
ι and κ Ursae Majoris, Talitha Borealis and Australis, the “third leap”.

These stars are found along the southwest border of the constellation.

Ptolemy the astronomer
Claudius Ptolemaeus, known in English as Ptolemy, was a Roman citizen of Greek or Egyptian ancestry. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer and a poet. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and died in the city of Alexandria around AD 168. Ptolemy was the author of several scientific treatises, at least three of which were of continuing importance to later Islamic and European science. The first is the astronomical treatise now known as the Almagest. Almagest is the Latin form of the Arabic name (الكتاب المجسطي, al-kitabu-l-mijisti, in English The Great Book) of a mathematical and astronomical treatise proposing the complex motions of the stars and planetary paths, originally written in Greek as Μαθηματικἠ Σύνταξις.

16th-century representation of the Ptolemy’s geocentric model

Ptolemy’s cosmos
The cosmology of the Almagest includes five main points, each of which is the subject of a chapter in Book I.
The celestial realm is spherical, and moves as a sphere.
The Earth is a sphere.
The Earth is at the center of the cosmos.
The Earth, in relation to the distance of the fixed stars, has no appreciable size and must be treated as a mathematical point.[2]
The Earth does not move.

Ptolemy assigned the following order to the planetary spheres, beginning with the innermost:
Moon
Mercury
Venus
Sun
Mars
Jupiter
Saturn
Sphere of fixed stars

How we know about ancient astronomical ideas
The reason his work on astronomy has an Arabic name is very important. Ptolemy wrote the Almagest as a textbook of mathematical astronomy. It explained geometrical models of the planets based on combinations of circles, which could be used to predict the motions of celestial objects. Ptolemy’s comprehensive treatise of mathematical astronomy superseded most older texts of Greek astronomy, so, as a result, the older texts ceased to be copied and were gradually lost. Much of what we know about the work of astronomers like Hipparchus comes from references in the Almagest. The first translations into Arabic were made in the 9th century, with two separate efforts, one sponsored by the caliph Al-Ma’mun. By this time, the Almagest was lost in Western Europe, or only dimly remembered in astrological lore. Consequently, Western Europe rediscovered Ptolemy from translations of Arabic versions. In the twelfth century a Spanish version was produced, which was later translated into Latin under the patronage of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. Gerard of Cremona translated the Almagest into Latin directly from the Arabic version. Gerard found the Arabic text in Toledo, Spain. Gerard of Cremona was unable to translate many technical terms; he even retained the Arabic Abrachir for Hipparchus.

Ptolemy on the Moon
Ptolemaeus is an ancient lunar impact crater named after Ptolemy.


The crater Ammonius on the floor of Ptolemaeus. The Apollo 12 lunar module is visible near top of image.

The story of Icarus
Icarus‘ father, Daedalus, a talented and remarkable Athenian craftsman, attempted to escape from his exile in the place of Crete, where he and his son were imprisoned at the hands of King Minos, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur (half man, half bull). Daedalus, the superior craftsman, was exiled because he gave Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, a clew of string in order to help Theseus, the enemy of Minos, survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms. And so, Icarus fell into the sea in the area which bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.

The Sun travels around the Earth
This is what geocentric means, the Earth is fixed as a centre of things and the Sun travels around the Earth, and poor young Icarus flies too close to the Sun, the wax that holds the feathers melts in the Sun’s heat and he falls into the sea.

Breughel’s picture depicts the moment when Icarus fall into the sea. It is a small detail in a landscape where the most visible and important action is a Ploughman ploughing his field and concentrating on his work.

The warning of Daedelus to his son Icarus as told by Ovid
When he had put the last touches to what he had begun, the artificer balanced his own body between the two wings and hovered in the moving air. He instructed the boy as well, saying ‘Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes. And I order you not to aim towards Bootes, the Herdsman, or Helice, the Great Bear, or towards the drawn sword of Orion: take the course I show you!’ At the same time as he laid down the rules of flight, he fitted the newly created wings on the boy’s shoulders. While he worked and issued his warnings the ageing man’s cheeks were wet with tears: the father’s hands trembled.

He gave a never to be repeated kiss to his son, and lifting upwards on his wings, flew ahead, anxious for his companion, like a bird, leading her fledglings out of a nest above, into the empty air. He urged the boy to follow, and showed him the dangerous art of flying, moving his own wings, and then looking back at his son. Some angler catching fish with a quivering rod, or a shepherd leaning on his crook, or a ploughman resting on the handles of his plough, saw them, perhaps, and stood there amazed, believing them to be gods able to travel the sky.

Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BCE – 17 or 18 CE), known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the Metamorphoses a mythological hexameter poem, and the Fasti, about the Roman calendar. Many artists in Europe have based their subject matter on episodes from Metamorphoses.

The coldest place on Earth
If you were to fly towards the Sun into the mesosphere, which extends from the stratopause at 51 km (32 mi; 170,000 ft) to 80–85 km (50–53 mi; 260,000–280,000 ft), and where most meteors burn up upon entering the atmosphere, the mesopause, the temperature minimum that marks the top of the mesosphere, is the coldest place on Earth and has an average temperature around −100 °C (−148.0 °F; 173.1 K).

Women’s World Day of Prayer (Christian)
This dates from 1887 and is celebrated on the first Friday of March which this year is falls on March 5. This year the theme of prayer has been prepared by the women of the National Committee of Cameroon; “Let Everything that has breath praise God”.

International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women.


Bramley on a winters day 11.03.2010

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