Our spring almanac 28.05.2010 – 03.06.2010

Night skies in Auriga

Messier 38 is an open cluster in the Auriga constellation.
It was discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654 and independently found by Le Gentil in 1749. The cluster’s brightest stars form a pattern resembling the Greek letter Pi.

Capella (α Aurigae / α Aur / Alpha Aurigae / Alpha Aur) is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga, the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the third brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus and Vega. Although it appears to be a single star to the naked eye, it is actually a star system of four stars in two binary pairs. The first pair consists of two bright, large type-G giant stars, both with a radius around 10 times the Sun’s, in close orbit around each other. These two stars are thought to be cooling and expanding on their way to becoming red giants. The second pair, around 10,000 astronomical units from the first, consists of two faint, small and relatively cool red dwarfs. The Capella system is relatively close, at only 42.2 light-years (12.9 pc) from Earth.

Little female goat
The name Capella means small female goat from Latin Capra. In Roman mythology, the star represented the goat Amalthea that suckled Jupiter.

It was this goat whose horn, after accidentally being broken off by Jupiter, was transformed into the Cornucopia, or “horn of plenty”, which would be filled with whatever its owner desired.

Su Song Star Map
In traditional Chinese astronomy, Capella was part of the asterism 五車; Wŭ chē; English: Five Chariots, which consisted of Capella together with β, ι, and θ Aurigae, as well as β Tauri.

Since it was the second star in this asterism, it has the name 五車二; Wŭ chē èr; English: Second of the Five Chariots. This five-star Chinese constellation contains Auriga plus Beta Tauri.

In Australian Aboriginal mythology for the Booroung people of Victoria, Capella was Purra, the kangaroo, pursued and killed by the nearby Gemini twins, Yurree (Castor) and Wanjel (Pollux).

Su Song and his water clock
In ancient China water powered astronomical clocks were the marvel of the age. In the year 1086, the boy emperor of China ordered the construction of an astronomical clock that should surpass all others. He chose a man called Su Song to design and build a magnificent tower and water driven mechanism to make an astronomical timekeeper. As illustrated above, Su Song completed a large celestial atlas of several star maps, several terrestrial maps, as well as a treatise on pharmacology. The latter discussed related subjects on mineralogy, zoology, botany, and metallurgy. So Su Song (simplified Chinese: 苏颂; traditional Chinese: 蘇頌; pinyin: Sū Sòng; style name: Zirong 子容) (1020–1101 AD) was a renowned Chinese statesman, astronomer, cartographer, horologist, pharmacologist, mineralogist, zoologist, botanist, mechanical and architectural engineer, poet, antiquarian, and ambassador of the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

Su Song engineered the construction of this a water-driven astronomical clock tower in medieval Kaifeng, using a design which employed the use of an early escapement mechanism. The escapement mechanism of Su’s clock tower had previously been invented by Buddhist monk Yi Xing and government official Liang Lingzan in 725 AD to operate a water-powered armillary sphere, although Su’s armillary sphere was the first to be provided with a mechanical clock drive. Su’s clock tower also featured the oldest known endless power-transmitting chain drive, called the tian ti (天梯), or “celestial ladder”, as depicted in his horological treatise. The clock tower had 133 different clock jacks to indicate and sound the hours.

On the top of the tower he installed an instrument called an armillary sphere that represented the paths of the Sun, the Moon and some important stars, as they crossed the sky. On the floor below, he designed a demonstrational celestial globe to show all the important heavenly objects. These instruments were moved round by a pair of vertical transmission shafts that were regulated by the pouring of water into small buckets on a giant wheel. The weight of the water in the buckets turned the wheel the distance of a spoke every 24 seconds. This wheel was powered to drive a number of connected wheels, stacked up in the lower half of the tower to show the hours, the quarter of the hours and the 24 second intervals of the main mechanism.

The Armillary Sphere

Basically, an armillary sphere is a a model of the celestial sphere used in astronomy and navigation. The celestial sphere is an imaginary sphere, concentric with the Earth and rotating upon the same axis. All objects in the sky can be thought of as projected upon the celestial sphere.

Armillary spheres were developed by the Greeks and were used as teaching tools already in the 3rd century B.C. Throughout Chinese history, astronomers have created celestial globes (simplified Chinese: 浑象) to assist the observation of the stars. The main purpose for using the armillary sphere in Chinese astronomy was in working out calculations for the lunisolar (moon+sun) calendar.

May 30 Trinity Sunday
On the first Sunday after Pentecost Christians meditate on the nature of God as “Three in one”. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. This can be difficult to understand, but in theology, monotheism, that is the belief that only one God exists, may still include concepts of a the many and the one of the divine. Additionally, most Christian churches teach Jesus to be two natures both divine and human. This concept of “monotheism” links the Abrahamic (coming from Abraham) religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

A vision of St Augustine
Augustine of Hippo (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430), Bishop of Hippo Regius, was a Latin speaking philosopher and theologian living in the Roman Africa Province. When the Roman Empire in the West was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Church as a spiritual City of God distinct from Earthly Cities. His thought profoundly influenced ideas during the middle ages and in to the modern world, because Augustine’s City of God was closely identified with the church, the community which worshipped God.

Pictures of St Augustine’s life increase steadily in number from the middle ages, becoming very frequent in the eighteenth century. The main events of his life are depicted: his early life ; his conversion; his baptism; the vision of the child on the seashore. This last legend was abundantly illustrated.

A child, often portrayed as an angel, appeared to the saint who was meditating on the mystery of the Trinity whilst the child is shown trying to empty the sea with a shell, when Augustine tells the child that this was impossible, the child replies that Augustine was also engaged on the equally impossible task of explaining the Trinity.

June 1 is International Children’s Day
It is half-term for many schools in Basingstoke this week, so there is ample opportunity for you to enjoy this day. The World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland proclaimed June 1 to be International Children’s Day in 1925. It is not clear as to why June 1 was chosen as the International Children’s Day: one theory has it that the Chinese consul-general in San Francisco (USA) gathered a number of Chinese orphans to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival in 1925, which happened to be on June 1 that year, and also coincided with the conference in Geneva.

This year the festival takes place on 16 June 2010.

June 3 Corpus Christi
This is the day that Roman Catholics celebrate the “real presence of Christ in the Eucharist”. The festival falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The appearance of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her early youth Juliana had a veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, and always longed for a special feast in its honour. This desire is said to have been increased by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity.

In 1208 she had her first vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually told her confessor, he told the bishop.

The Walled Garden Down Grange 03.05.2010


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