Archive for April, 2010

Our spring almanac 30.04.2010 – 06.05.2010

Posted in astronomical time on April 30, 2010 by espacelab

The Constellation Aquila

The star Altair, Arabic for the bird.

The star Alshain, Arabic for peregrine falcon.

The star Deneb el Okab, Arabic for the tail of the falcon.

NGC 6751 is a planetary nebula in the constellation Aquila, also known as the Glowing Eye. The nebula is estimated to be around 0.8 light-years in diameter. The star at the centre of the nebula has a surface temperature of approximately 140,000 K. It has been calculated to be roughly 6,500 light-years away from Earth. It was formed when a star collapsed and threw off its outer layer of gas several thousand years ago.

Aquila the eagle in Greek mythology
In classical Greek mythology, Aquila was identified as Αετός Δίας (Aetos Dios), the eagle that carried the thunderbolts of Zeus and was sent by him to carry the shepherd boy Ganymede to Mount Olympus.

Aquila was the Constellation Logo for St. Bede’s School.

St Bede and astronomical calculations

Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede, was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth who was born about 672/673 – and died May 26, 735. He is well known as an author and scholar for his most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) that has gained him the title “The Father of English History”. He was also the author of De temporibus, or On Time, written in about 703, provides an introduction to the principles of Easter computus. This was based on parts of Isidore of Seville‘s Etymologies, and Bede also included a chronology of the world which was derived from Eusebius, with some revisions based on Jerome’s translation of the bible. In about 723, Bede wrote a longer work on the same subject, On the Reckoning of Time, which was influential throughout the Middle Ages.

On the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione) included an introduction to the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos, including an explanation of how the spherical earth influenced the changing length of daylight, of how the seasonal motion of the Sun and Moon influenced the changing appearance of the New Moon at evening twilight, and a quantitative relation between the changes of the Tides at a given place and the daily motion of the moon. Since the focus of his book was calculation, Bede gave instructions for computing the date of Easter and the related time of the Easter Full Moon, for calculating the motion of the Sun and Moon through the zodiac, and for many other calculations related to the calendar. He gives some information about the months of the Anglo-Saxon calendar in chapter XV.

For calendric purposes, Bede made a new calculation of the age of the world since the creation, which he dated as 3952 BC.

In addition to these works on astronomical timekeeping, he also wrote De natura rerum, or On the Nature of Things, modeled in part after the work of the same title by Isidore of Seville. His works were so influential that late in the 9th century Notker the Stammerer, a monk of the Monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, wrote that “God, the orderer of natures, who raised the Sun from the East on the fourth day of Creation, in the sixth day of the world has made Bede rise from the West as a new Sun to illuminate the whole Earth”.

Walpurgis Night

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional spring festival on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. Its celebration is associated with dancing and with bonfires. The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after Saint Walpurga (ca. 710-777/9), an English missionary to the Frankish Empire. As Walpurga was canonized on 1 May (ca. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars.

In evangelizing among the still-pagan Germans, she had been well prepared for the call. She was educated by the nuns of Winborne Abbey, Dorset, where she spent twenty-six years as a member of the community. Thanks to her rigorous training she was later able to write St. Winibald’s vita and an account in Latin of St. Willibald’s travels in Palestine, so that she is often credited with being the first female author of both England and Germany.

May Day

Flora appearing in the painting called The Primavera by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, c. 1482. In 1551, Vasari wrote that the picture which according to him announced the arrival of spring, Primavera in Italian.

May Day 01.05.2010 is a day for many kinds of celebration worldwide. The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane. Many pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of conversion in Europe. A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and North America. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May.

May Crowning

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary’s month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. With Christianity came agricultural feasts such as Plough Sunday (the first Sunday in January), Rogationtide, Harvest Festival and May Day. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating Springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Since May 1st is the Feast of St Philip & St James, they became the patron saints of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off.

St Michaels Church in Basingstoke dates back to the 11th century and was lost to the Catholic Faith at the Reformation. The Catholics of that time however have left the catholics of Basingstoke today a beautiful inheritance – the beautiful statues of Mary holding Jesus and surrounded by angels. At the Reformation Thomas Cromwell had tried to destroy every image of Our Lady, but some were smuggled out of the country and in Basingstoke the catholics hid the above stutue in an alcove on the wall and covered it up. It was discovered by workmen in St Michaels in 1917.

Maypole dancing

Perhaps the most significant of the traditions associated with May Day is the Maypole, and dancing, but when did you last see something like this photographic record from our Victorian era?

May Day for workers of the world
International Workers’ Day is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labour movement and left-wing movements. May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations and street marches by millions of working people and their labour unions throughout most of the countries of the world

Beltane also occurs on the first of May. Beltane is a Celtic word which means ‘fires of Bel’ (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.

The Gaulish Coligny calendar is possibly the oldest Celtic solar/lunar ritual calendar. It was discovered in Coligny, France, and is now on display in the Palais des Arts Gallo-Roman museum, Lyon. It dates from the 1st century BC, when the Roman Empire imposed use of the Julian Calendar in Roman Gaul. The calendar is made up of bronze fragments, in a single huge plate. It is inscribed in Gaulish with Latin characters and uses roman numerals.

Meteors and comets
More shooting stars can be seen this week. Less than a fortnight ago we were looking for the shooting stars we call the Lyrids.
If you were unlucky in seeing any of the Lyrids then look out for the meteor shower called the Eta Aquarids. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is the first of two showers that occur each year as a result of Earth passing through dust released by Halley’s Comet, with the second being the Orionids. The Eta Aquarids are visible from May 1st until May 8th, with the maximum possible sightings occurring on May 4th. Just as with all the other meteor showers, the name of this shower of shooting stars is connected to the part of the sky from where they appear to radiate. In this case they are named after the star called Eta in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer.

The best time to see this meteor shower is early in the morning at around 03h.

A photograph of Halley’s Comet taken during its 1910 approach.
Halley’s Comet is the best-known of the short-period comets, and is visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. Halley is the only short-period comet that is clearly visible to the naked eye from Earth, and thus the only naked-eye comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime. Other naked-eye comets may be brighter and more spectacular, but will appear only once in thousands of years. Halley’s returns to the inner Solar System have been observed by astronomers since at least 240 BC, and recorded by Chinese, Babylonian, and medieval European chroniclers, but were not recognized as reappearances of the same object. The comet’s periodicity was first determined in 1705 by English astronomer Edmond Halley, after whom it is now named. Halley’s Comet last appeared in the inner Solar System in 1986 and will next appear in mid-2061.

In 1066, the comet was seen in England and thought to be an omen: later that year Harold II of England died at the Battle of Hastings; it was a bad omen for Harold, but a good omen for the man who defeated him, William the Conqueror. The comet is represented on the Bayeux Tapestry as a fiery star, and the surviving accounts describe it as appearing to be four times the size of Venus and shining with a light equal to a quarter of that of the Moon.

Looking towards St Bedes 06.05.2010


Our spring almanac 23.04.2010 – 29.04.2010

Posted in astronomical time on April 23, 2010 by espacelab

St George’s Day
23.04.2010 is St George’s Day.

The flag of St. George, the English flag, flies atop the flagpole on the church tower in Kingsclere, but who was St George? What is believed to be the truth is that George was born in Cappadocia, an area which is now in Turkey, in the 3rd century; that his parents were Christians; and that when his father died, George’s mother returned to her native Palestine, taking George with her. George became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune. The Emperor of the day, Diocletian (245-313 AD), began a campaign against Christians at the very beginning of the 4th century. In about 303 AD George is said to have objected to this persecution and resigned his military post in protest. George tore up the Emperor’s order against Christians. This infuriated Diocletian, and George was imprisoned and tortured – but he refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Diospolis (now Lydda) in Palestine and beheaded. It’s said that Diocletian’s wife was so impressed by George’s resilience that she became a Christian and that she too was executed for her faith.

The episode of St George and the Dragon was a legend brought back with the Crusaders. In this version, which appears as part of the the medieval bestseller, the Golden Legend, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of “Silene” in Libya or the city of Lydda, depending on the source. The citizens had to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water, so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden must go instead of the sheep. The victim was chosen by drawing lots.

One day, this happened to be the princess. The king begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail, so she is offered to the dragon. then Saint George turns up on his travels, faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

Just like the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

A dragon in the night sky

Draco is a constellation in the far northern sky. Its name is Latin for dragon. Draco is circumpolar (that is, never setting) for many observers in the northern hemisphere. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations today.

In one of the more famous European myths, Draco represents Ladon, the dragon sometimes depicted with one hundred heads who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. The eleventh of the Twelve Labours of Heracles was to steal the golden apples. He put Ladon to sleep with music, which enabled Heracles to freely take the golden apples. According to the legend, Hera later placed the dragon in the sky as the constellation Draco.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is a planetary nebula in the constellation of Draco. Structurally, it is one of the most complex nebulae known, with high-resolution Hubble Space Telescope observations revealing remarkable structures such as knots, jets, bubbles and sinewy arc-like features. In the center of the Cat’s Eye there is a bright and hot star, which around 1000 years ago lost its outer envelope producing the nebula.

Herakles – Hercules

Hercules was the Constellation Logo for Whitewater School. This constellation is close to the dragon in the night sky.

This a cluster of some of the stars drawn by the Whitewater School’s students. If you look in the star chart of Hercules you will see a sky object with the label M13. Messier 13 or M13, and sometimes called the Hercules Globular Cluster, is what is called a globular cluster in the constellation of Hercules. A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits the centre of a galaxy in the same way as satellites orbit the Earth.

The Lyrids (continued)
The Lyrids are a strong meteor shower lasting from April 16 to April 26 each year. The radiant of the meteor shower is located in the constellation Lyra, peaking at April 22—hence they are also called the Alpha Lyrids or April Lyrids. The source of the meteor shower is the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

Comets have a wide range of different orbital periods, ranging from just a few years to hundreds of thousands of years. Some rare hyperbolic comets have been found by calculations in celestial mechanics to pass only once through the inner Solar System before being thrown out into interstellar space along hyperbolic trajectories.

Short-period comets have been found to originate in the Kuiper Belt, or its associated scattered disc, which lie beyond the orbit of Neptune. Longer-period comets are thought to have their origins much further away in the Oort Cloud, a cloud of icy bodies at the outer boundaries of the Solar System that were left behind during the condensation of the solar nebula.

Clouds over Rotherwick

Looking across the fields to Rotherwick village 29.04.2010

Our spring almanac 16.04.2010 – 22.04.2010

Posted in astronomical time on April 16, 2010 by espacelab

Blue and empty skies

The peaceful skies over Basingstoke and the violent eruption of a volcano in Iceland, remind us of how important the atmosphere of our planet Earth is to us all. This 7 day period begins with the skies over the UK and northern Europe empty of commercial jet aircraft. This is because dust in the dust plume from the erupting volcano in Iceland contains particles of silica that, if they enter the jet engines of an airliner in flight, will melt as glass and cause damage and even engine failure.

The size and mass of our planet Earth means that there is enough gravity to keep the air and the different layers of our thin film of atmosphere from disappearing into space.

The mass of our planet also means that it has layers of molten rock and a hot solid core, and therefore produce the volcanic eruptions that have been part of the story of how the Earth and its atmosphere has evolved. So volcanic activity is part of the story of life on Earth. The Earth’s magnetic field also plays its part in protecting the atmosphere from the harmful radiation of the solar wind.

Earth – the Goldilocks planet
The Earth has been called the Goldilocks planet because, just like in the story the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, in which a little girl chooses from sets of three items, ignoring the ones that are too extreme, large or small, hot or cold, and choosing the one in the middle, which is “just right”, the conditions for life on our home planet are just right.

The constellation Cygnus

Cygnus, meaning the swan, is a northern constellation, and is one of the most recognizable constellations of the summer and autumn in the northern half of our planet. The Pelican Nebula resembles a pelican in shape, hence the name, and is a large area of emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), close to Deneb, and divided from its brighter, larger neighbor, the North America Nebula, by a molecular cloud filled with dark dust.

The Pelican is much studied because it has a particularly active mix of star formation and evolving gas clouds. The light from young energetic stars is slowly transforming cold gas to hot and causing an ionization front gradually to advance outward. Particularly dense filaments of cold gas are seen to still remain. Millions of years from now this nebula might no longer be known as the Pelican, as the balance and placement of stars and gas will leave something that appears completely different.

Cygnus was the Constellation Logo for Kingsclere School.

One of Kingsclere School’s students came up with a brilliant new idea for the group of stars that form Cygnus – an ice cream cone!

Looking like a wide winged, long necked bird, in graceful flight, the swan In Greek mythology has been identified with several different legendary swans. Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduce Leda, who gave birth to the Gemini, Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra; Orpheus was transformed into a swan after his murder, and was said to have been placed in the sky next to his lyre (Lyra).

Shooting stars in Lyra
This week, between the 20th and the 22nd of April, we can look for a surprisingly unpredictable meteor shower called the Lyrids. The Lyrids are called the Lyrids because the meteors appear to burst into view in the part of the night sky where we find the constellation of Lyra, the Lyre.

These meteor showers began at the beginning of our 7 day period appearing in what is called a radiant between the star pattern of Lyra and the constellation of Hercules.

Look for the constellation Lyra rising in the north east at around 22h GMT. The best time to see shooting stars will be on the 22nd April when the meteor shower will be at its maximum. Sometimes the Lyrid shooting stars burst into view in a spectacular display, sometimes all we can expect to see is less than ten shooting stars per hour.

The best time to look for these bright burning sparks of comet debris is after midnight when the night side of Earth faces into its orbit around the Sun and passes through the leftover material of a comet trail of the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. The Lyrids have been observed for the past 2600 years.

Kingsclere in sunshine 22.04.2010

Our spring almanac 09.04.2010 – 15.04.2010

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9, 2010 by espacelab

Cherry blossom – at last!

Cherry blossom opposite Fairfields School Basingstoke 09.04.2010

Yom Hashoah
The Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 11.04.2010. The date is chosen as the closest date (in the Jewish calendar) to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The name comes from the Hebrew word ‘shoah’, which means ‘whirlwind’. Yom Hashoah ceremonies include the lighting of candles for Holocaust victims, and listening to the stories of survivors. Religious ceremonies include prayers such as Kaddish for the dead and the El Maleh Rahamim, a memorial prayer.

In a place called Yad Vashem, near Jerusalem in Israel, you will find the Hall of Names containing Pages of Testimony commemorating the six millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The origin of the name is from a Biblical verse: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off.”

The Sikh New Year Festival 13.04.2010
Vaisakhi, also spelled Baisakhi, is one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar. It is the Sikh New Year festival and is celebrated on April 13 or 14. It also commemorates 1699, the year Sikhism was born as a collective faith.

The Dasam Granth (formally dasvēṁ pātśāh kī granth or The Book of the Tenth Master) is an eighteenth-century collection of poems by Gobind Singh, the tenth guru. It was he who, on Vaisakhi in 1699, laid down the Foundation of the Khalsa.

Birthday of Guru Nanak (Nanakshahi calendar)
The founder of the Sikh religion was born on 14 April 1469. This festival is also currently celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar, but this may change. Hola Mohalla, according to the Nanakshahi Calendar, also takes place on this day. Hola Mohalla is currently celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar, but this may change.


In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of the kingdom Ethiopia. Our previous spring almanac has the constellation Cassiopeia as our theme. The Greek myth that connects Perseus, Pegasus, the Gorgon Medusa, Cassiopeia and Andromeda comes to a dramatic moment when, as divine punishment for her mother’s bragging, Andromeda was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster. She was saved from death by Perseus.

After her death, Andromeda was placed by Athena amongst the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia.

Andromeda was the Constellation Logo of Overton School.

One of Overton School’s student came up with a brilliant new constellation image, a tractor! Just right for farming the countryside around this part of Basingstoke and Deane,

Stars and galaxies
Alpheratz is the brightest star in this constellation.

Alpheratz is also known as Sirrah, both names derive from the Arabic name, سرة الفرس surrat al-faras “the navel of the horse”. (سرة alone is surra.) The word horse reflects the star’s historical placement in Pegasus. Another term for this star used by medieval astronomers writing in Arabic was راس المراة المسلسلة rās al-mar’a al-musalsala “the head of the woman in chains”, the chained woman here being Andromeda. In the Hindu lunar zodiac, this star, together with the other stars in the Great Square of Pegasus (α, β, and γ Pegasi), makes up the nakshatras of Pūrva Bhādrapadā and Uttara Bhādrapadā. The term Nakshatra (Devanagari: नक्षत्र, Sanskrit: nakshatra, ‘star’, from Sanskrit: naksha, ‘approach’, and Sanskrit: tra, ‘guard’) or lunar mansion is one of the 27 divisions of the sky, identified by the prominent stars in them, used in Jyotisha, which is the Hindu system of astrology.

Beta Andromedae is a red giant star in the constellation of Andromeda. It has the traditional name Mirach (also spelled Merach, Mirac, Mirak). It is approximately 200 light years away. Mirach is a corruption of the Arabic ميزر mīzar “girdle” and refers to Mirach’s position at the left hip of the princess Andromeda.

A light-year
A light-year, also light year or lightyear, (symbol: ly) is a unit of length, equal to just under 10 trillion kilometres (i.e. 1016 metres). As defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a light-year is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year. The light-year is often used to measure distances to stars and other distances on a galactic scale.

Gamma Andromedae is the third brightest star in the constellation of Andromeda. It is also known by the traditional name Almach (also spelt as Almaach, Almaack, Almak, Almaak, or Alamak), from the Arabic العناق الأرض al-‘anāq al-’arđ̧ “the caracal” (desert lynx). It was known as 天大將軍一 (the First Star of the Great General of the Heaven) in Chinese.

In 1778, Johann Tobias Mayer discovered that γ Andromedae was a double star. When examined in a small telescope, it appears to be a bright, golden yellow star (γ1 Andromedae) next to a dimmer, indigo blue star (γ2 Andromedae), separated by approximately 10 arcseconds. It is considered by stargazers to be a beautiful double star with a striking contrast of color. It was later discovered that γ2 Andromedae is itself a triple star system. What appears as a single star to the naked eye is thus a quadruple star system, approximately 350 light-years from the Earth.

Andromeda the Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy as seen by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2,500,000 light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, and is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts. Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to our own, the Milky Way. As it is visible as a faint smudge on a moonless night, it is one of the farthest objects visible to the naked eye, and can be seen even from urban areas with binoculars. It gets its name from the area of the sky in which it appears, the Andromeda constellation. Andromeda is the largest galaxy of the Local Group, which consists of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy, and about 30 other smaller galaxies. Although the largest, Andromeda may not be the most massive, as recent findings suggest that the Milky Way contains more dark matter and may be the most massive in the grouping. The 2006 observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that M31 contains one trillion stars, more than the number of stars in our own galaxy, which is estimated to be about 200-400 billion.

A 2009 study concluded that Andromeda and the Milky Way are about equal in mass. Although it appears more than six times as wide as the full Moon when photographed through a larger telescope, only the brighter central region is visible with the naked eye.

Using the orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have imaged the center of our near-twin island universe, finding evidence for an object so bizarre it would have impressed many 1960s science fiction writers (and readers). Like the Milky Way, Andromeda’s galactic center appears to harbor an X-ray source characteristic of a black hole of a million or more solar masses. Seen above, the false-color X-ray picture shows a number of X-ray sources, likely X-ray binary stars, within Andromeda’s central region as yellowish dots. The blue source located right at the galaxy’s center is the position of the suspected massive black hole.

According to the general theory of relativity, a black hole is a region of space from which nothing, including light, can escape. It is the result of the deformation of spacetime caused by a very compact mass. Around a black hole there is an undetectable surface which marks the point of no return, called an event horizon. It is called “black” because it absorbs all the light that hits it, reflecting nothing.

Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way
The Andromeda Galaxy is approaching the Sun at about 100 to 140 kilometres per second so the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are thus expected to collide in perhaps 2.5 billion years. A likely outcome of the collision is that the galaxies will merge to form a giant elliptical galaxy. Such events are frequent among the galaxies in galaxy groups.

Beautiful coloured clouds sometimes have a lining of glass.

Volcanic ash fills the skies
On 15.04.2010. The Guardian reports that:
Tens of thousands of passengers across Britain and Europe were grounded today as airports closed or faced severe disruption from a plume of ash caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

All non-emergency flights in the UK will be grounded from noon to six because the after-effects of the eruption have made flying too hazardous, air safety officials said.

All flights in and out of Scotland were stopped earlier today with other airports facing severe disruption until the blanket ban was announced. Denmark’s air space will close later this afternoon. Airports and airlines warned cancellations and delays were likely tomorrow and possibly longer as the ash continued to move south and east into northern Europe.

Volcanic ash is drifting south-east from the volcano, located beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier about 120km east of Reykjavik. About 800 residents were evacuated from the area yesterday as rivers rose by up to 3 metres.

Overton in sunshine on 15.04.2010

Our spring almanac 02.04.2010 – 08.04.2010

Posted in Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 by espacelab


The beautiful Queen.
Who was Casssiopeia? The constellation known as Cassiopeia is named after a character in the story of Perseus and Andromeda, and that includes Pegasus and the Gorgon Medusa and that originates in the mythology of ancient Greece. Cassiopeia was the queen and consort of King Cepheus in Ethiopia. Their daughter Andromeda was very beautiful. Cassiopeia herself was a great beauty and was vain of it; she proclaimed her beauty was greater than that of the Nereids’, the daughters of the sea god Poseidon. To punish Cassiopeia, he sentenced Andromeda to be tied to a rock with a sea monster awaiting her.

Perseus, returning from having slaughtered the gorgon Medusa, encountered the body of Andromeda lashed to the rock. He spoke to Cassiopeia and her husband and struck a deal with them: he would be allowed to marry Andromeda if he could kill the great sea monster before it killed their virgin daughter (who had been betrothed to her uncle Phineus).

Perseus defeated the monster, took Andromeda and returned to Ethiopia. Cassiopeia and Cepheus fulfilled their end of the bargain and began to plan the wedding for Andromeda. After the nuptials began, Phineus entered the proceedings and demanded his right to marry Andromeda. A battle ensued in which Cepheus and Cassiopeia sided with Phineus. Outnumbered, Perseus considered that he had no choice but to slay his challengers by using the head of the recently slaughtered Medusa. Following their death both Cepheus and Cassiopeia were placed among the stars by Poseidon. Cassiopeia was put upside down for half the year because of her vanity, with her husband beside her.

Roman remains

In ancient Roman Silchester the city population would have been brought up with the ancient Greek myths and stories about the identities of the night sky constellations, just as the story of Romulus, the founder of ancient Rome would have been equally familiar, and as discussed in the previous post.

Clash of the Titans
Coincidentally, this week sees the release of a 3D film inspired by these Greek mythological stories. This is a re-make of a the 1981 film that used, for those days, the most advanced visual cinematic effects.

Cassiopeia was the Constellation Logo for Silchester School.

One of Silchester’s students came up with the image of an Easter Rabbit for the star pattern of Cassiopeia.

The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny or Easter Hare is a character depicted as rabbit bringing Easter eggs, who sometimes is depicted with clothes. In legend, the creature brings baskets filled with colored eggs, candy and sometimes also toys to the homes of children on the night before Easter. The Easter Bunny will either put the baskets in a designated place or hide them somewhere in the house or garden for the children to find when they wake up in the morning.

Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.

Cassiopeia A (Cas A) is a supernova remnant in the constellation Cassiopeia and the brightest astronomical radio source in the sky. A supernova remnant (SNR) is the structure resulting from the gigantic explosion of a star in a supernova. The supernova remnant is bounded by an expanding shock wave. A supernova (plural supernovae) is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months.

Special effects using false colours helps reveal the structure of the supernova remnant. A false colour image composited of data from three sources. Red is infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, orange is visible data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and blue and green are data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The cyan dot just off-center is the remnant of the star’s core.

The Sun, a star and the Moon drawn by students at Silchester School in Hampshire

Good Friday

Our seven day blog post begins on Good Friday. The most important events in Christianity are the death and later resurrection of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Son of God, and whose life and teachings are the foundation of Christianity. Good Friday is the Friday before Easter. It commemorates the execution of Jesus by crucifixion. As we have already explained in an earlier post about setting the date for Easter, it is the Sunday following the first full moon after the equinox. This is luni-solar (Sun and Moon) calendar calculation.

Good Friday is a day of mourning in church. During special Good Friday services Christians meditate on Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and what this means for their faith. In some countries, there are special Good Friday processions, or re-enactments of the Crucifixion. The main service on Good Friday takes place between midday and 3pm. In many churches it takes the form of a meditation based on the seven last words of Jesus on the cross, with hymns, prayers, and short sermons.

Hot Cross Buns
In many historically Christian countries, buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the crucifixion. They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term “hot cross bun” is not until 1733; it is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon); “Eostre” is probably the origin of the name “Easter”. Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier.

Easter Sunday
Easter falls on 4 April this year. Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy.

Why is April 5 the beginning of the Financial Year?

The famous story that in September 1752 in Britain, crowds of angry people were shouting “Give us back our eleven days!” is probably a myth, partly based on a misinterpretation of this painting by the English artist William Hogarth. Nevertheless, by an Act of Parliament, Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was to be followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. Eleven days had been taken out of the calendar! This was because of a very necessary calendar reform. The British calendar was still following the Julian Calendar devised by Julius Caesar, and because it had been in use for centuries was 11 days ahead of the true solar year. The adjustment of the calendar would bring Britain into line with all the European countries that had adopted the reforms of 1582 instituted by Pope Gregory XIII, in what is now known as the Gregorian Calendar.

Lots of people didn’t like the change. There were riots in Bristol, and in the City of London bankers objected to the change and refused to pay taxes on the usual date of March 25 1753. They paid up 11 days later on April 5, which still remains the date for the beginning and end of the financial and tax year.

The Haggadah (Hebrew: הגדה‎, “telling”) is a Jewish religious text that sets out the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah is a fulfillment of the scriptural commandment to each Jew to “tell your son” about the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah.

The final day of Passover
The eighth and final day of Passover falls on 6 April this year. Passover can be called the Festival of Spring and was an agricultural festival which marked the beginning of the cycle of production and harvest during the time the Jews lived in ancient Palestine. On the last day of Passover a passage from the Book of Isaiah is read which tells of the Messianic era or ‘Passover of the Future’. Passover is also called The Festival of Freedom and is a celebration of freedom, not just in Biblical times, but its importance to the individual today and throughout history. The story of Passover, with its message that slaves can go free, and that the future can be better than the present, has inspired a number of religious sermons, prayers, and the songs of Gospel music.

A spring morning in Silchester 08.04.2010