Our spring almanac 04.05.2010 -10.05.2010

Flaming June

The Roman poet Ovid provides two etymologies for June’s name in his poem concerning the months entitled the Fasti. The first is that the month is named after the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter and equivalent to the Greek goddess Hera, whilst the second is that the name comes from the Latin word iuniores, meaning “younger ones“. The poem is based on the Roman calendar or Fasti, loosely following the Works and Days by ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Each of its separate books discusses one month of the Roman calendar, beginning with January. It contains some brief astronomical notes, but its more significant portions discuss the religious festivals of the Roman religion, the rites performed upon them, and their mythological explanations. These explanations preserve much mythological and religious lore that would have otherwise been lost.

The poem was written to illustrate the Fasti, or almanac and official calendar, published by Julius Caesar after he remodelled the Roman year. In the year 46 BC Julius Caesar ordered that a new calendar be devised, made of 365 and a quarter days. The fraction of a day would be counted once every four years in a leap year of 366 days, followed by 3 years of 365 days. This calendar began on the Kalends of Januarius in the year 46 BC.

In the year 10 BC the first Roman Emperor Augustus celebrated his victory over the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra with the creation of a giant public sundial. A 50 foot stone obelisk brought from Egypt was placed in the Campus Martius in the middle of an enormous grid of lines showing the length of hours, days and months, and the signs of the zodiac, and a version of Caesar’s calendar carved in stone.

The obelisk still casts a shadow across the Piazza del Popolo in modern Rome.

There is a special name for something people use to tell the time by casting a shadow of the Sun on a sundial, it is called a “gnomon”. If you use a sundial in Basingstoke to set noon in Basingstoke you will find our astroclock is accurate when it comes to Basingstoke time at Greenwich Mean Time minus 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

The World Cup is going to be played in winter!

June in the Northern Hemisphere is the seasonal equivalent to December in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa. This football teams preparing for the World Cup in South Africa will be playing in South Africa’s midwinter. The month of June—in the Northern Hemisphere—is in spring until the 21st, when the first day of summer begins.

The June birth flower is the rose, or the honeysuckle, as roses and honeysuckles bloom throughout June. June is also sometimes called the “Rose month.”

Night skies in Perseus

Deep sky objects in Perseus
The Double Cluster is the common name for the naked-eye open clusters NGC 884 and NGC 869, which are close together in the constellation Perseus.

Messier 34 (also known as M 34 or NGC 1039) is an open cluster in the constellation Perseus. It was probably discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654 and included by Charles Messier in his catalog of comet-like objects in 1764. Messier described it as, “A cluster of small stars a little below the parallel of γ (Andromendae). In an ordinary telescope of 3 feet one can distinguish the stars.”

The Little Dumbbell Nebula, also known as Messier 76, NGC 650/651, the Barbell Nebula, or the Cork Nebula, is a planetary nebula in the constellation Perseus.

The term planetary nebula comes from the fact that this name originated with their first discovery in the 18th century because of their similarity in appearance to giant planets when viewed through small optical telescopes. We can now see that deep sky objects like this are in fact a nebula, or emission nebula, a cloud of ionized gas emitting light of various colors. The most common source of ionization is high-energy photons emitted from a nearby hot star. The Little Dumbbell Nebula derives its common name from its resemblance to the Dumbbell Nebula. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1780 and included in Charles Messier’s catalog of comet-like objects as number 76. It was first recognised as a planetary nebula in 1918 by the astronomer Heber Doust Curtis.

The Dumbbell Nebula (also known as Messier 27, M 27, or NGC 6853) is a planetary nebula (PN) in the constellation Vulpecula, at a distance of about 1,360 light years.

The brightest star of this constellation is also called Algenib. Mirfak (Arabic for elbow) is a supergiant star of spectral type F5 Ib with an apparent brightness of 1.79m lying at a distance of about 590 light-years. Its luminosity is 5,000 times of our sun and its diameter is 42 times that of our sun. Mirfak is one of the navigational stars used in celestial navigation because like Mirfak they are so bright and visible in the night sky.

The Astrolabe

An astrolabe (Greek: ἁστρολάβον astrolabon, “star-taker”) is a historical astronomical instrument used by astronomers, navigators, and astrologers. Its many uses include locating and predicting the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars; determining local time (given local latitude) and vice-versa; surveying; triangulation; and to cast horoscopes.

They were used in Classical Antiquity and through the Islamic Golden Age and the European Middle Ages and Renaissance for all these purposes.

A Treatise on the astrolabe by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Isfahan 1505.
In the Islamic world, astrolabes were also used to calculate the Qibla and to find the times for Salah prayers. So, for the practical everyday activity of prayer, the people of Islam needed to know the time of prayer, but also, as we shall see, but also the direction of prayer. If you were on the move as a muslim, you needed to be a navigator in time and space.

Qiblah (Arabic: قبلة‎, also transliterated as Kiblah) is an Arabic word for the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during Salah. Most mosques contain a niche in a wall that indicates the Qiblah.

Originally, the Qiblah (direction for prayer) for Muslims was toward the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. Today the Qiblah, for any point of reference on the Earth, is the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca. The change happened very suddenly during one noon prayer in Medina, in a mosque now known as Masjid al-Qiblatain (Mosque of the Two Qiblahs). Muhammad was leading the prayer when he received revelations from Allah instructing him to take the Kaaba as the Qiblah (literally, “turn your face towards the Masjid al Haram”).

Muslims do not worship the Kaaba or its contents; the Kaaba is simply a focal point for prayer.


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