Our spring almanac 30.04.2010 – 06.05.2010

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


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