Archive for October, 2010

Our autumn almanac 29.10.2010 – 04.11.2010

Posted in astronomical time on October 29, 2010 by espacelab

This week it is All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween on Sunday

All Hallows’ Eve falls on 31 October each year, and is the day before All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day in the Christian calendar. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.

The name derives from the Old English ‘hallowed’ meaning holy or sanctified and is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe’en.
A brief history of the festival

In the early 7th century Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome, formerly a temple to all the gods, as a church dedicated to Saint Mary and the Martyrs, and ordered that that date, May 13, should be celebrated every year.

It became All Saints’ Day, a day to honour all the saints, and later, at the behest of Pope Urban IV (d. 1264), a day specially to honour those saints who didn’t have a festival day of their own.

In the 8th century, on November 1st, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to all the saints in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Gregory IV then made the festival universal throughout the Church, and November 1st has subsequently become All Saints’ Day for the western Church.

The Orthodox Church celebrates All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday after Passover – a date closer to the original May 13th.

Hallowe’en and Samhain

It is widely believed that many Hallowe’en traditions have evolved from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain which was Christianised by the early Church. Pronounced sow-in, Samhain is a Gaelic word meaning ‘end of the summer’. This festival is believed to have been a celebration of the end of the harvest, and a time of preparation for the coming winter.

It is widely accepted that the early church missionaries chose to hold a festival at this time of year in order to absorb existing native Pagan practices into Christianity, thereby smoothing the conversion process.

A letter Pope Gregory I sent to Bishop Mellitus in the 6th century, in which he suggested that existing places of non-Christian worship be adopted and consecrated to serve a Christian purpose, is often provided as supporting evidence of this method of acculturation. (See related links.)

Encyclopaedia Britannica states that this date may have been chosen “in an effort to supplant the Pagan holiday with a Christian observance”.

The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions also claims that Hallowe’en “absorbed and adopted the Celtic new year festival, the eve and day of Samhain”.

However, there are supporters of the view that Hallowe’en, as the eve of All Saints’ Day, originated entirely independently of Samhain and some question the existence of a specific pan-Celtic religious festival which took place on 31 October/1 November.

All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas) is the day after All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en). It is a feast day celebrated on November 1st by Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

It is an opportunity for followers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. As part of this day of obligation, followers are required to attend church and try not to do any servile work.

All Souls’ Day

All Souls’ Day is marked on 2nd November (or the 3rd if the 2nd is a Sunday), directly following All Saints’ Day, and is an opportunity for Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholic churches to commemorate the faithful departed. They remember and pray for the souls of people who are in Purgatory – the place (or state) in which those who have died atone for their less grave sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven (called Beatific vision).

Reasoning behind this stems from the notion that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from venial (minor) sins. However, through the power of prayer and self-denial, the faithful left on earth may be able to help these souls gain the Beatific Vision they seek, bringing the soul eternal sublime happiness.

A 7/8th century AD prayer The Office of the Dead is read out in churches on All Souls’ Day. Other rituals include the offering of Requiem Mass for the dead, visiting family graves and reflecting on lost loved ones. In Mexico, on el dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead), people take picnics to their family graves and leave food out for their dead relatives.

Whilst praying for the dead is an ancient Christian tradition, it was Odilo, Abbot of Cluny (France) who, in 998AD, designated a specific day for remembering and praying for those in the process of purification. This started as a local feast in his monasteries and gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church towards the end of the 10th century AD.


Our autumn almanac 22.10.2010 – 28.10.2010

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 by espacelab

The Orionids meteor showercontinue
The full moon makes it difficult to see the meteor shower.

Hunters Moon on Oct 23
The hunter’s moon—also known as blood moon or sanguine moon—is the first full moon after the harvest moon, which is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. The Hunter’s Moon is so named because plenty of moonlight is ideal for hunters shooting migrating birds in Northern Europe.

Our autumn almanac 15.10.2010 – 21.10.2010

Posted in astronomical time on October 22, 2010 by espacelab

The Orionid Meteor Shower
Late at night in this seven day period you will be able to see the star pattern Orion. Between 11 o’clock and midnight, if you look towards the east, and then a little to the south, you will see the constellation of Orion the Hunter rising over the trees and roof tops on your horizon. Some exciting astronomical events will start to happen in this part of the sky from October 15 – 25, a meteor shower, or shooting stars.

To find Orion in the clear night sky look for three stars in a row which marks the hunter’s belt. The shooting stars you might see this week are called the Orionid meteors, because they appear to come from the hunter’s club formed by a scattering of faint stars. The shooting stars of Orion are bright sparks of ice, dust and small stones burning as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. They are fragments left floating in space by a comet called Halley’s comet. If you are lucky enough to see a few of these shooting stars, you will see they glow with varied colours. Some make a long trail in the night sky. This is called the meteor’s train. Looking forward to the night of October 21 is a night when you can expect to see up to 30 shooting stars per hour, however the almost-full waxing gibbous moon makes 2010 an unfavorable year for watching this Orionid meteor shower, and the moon is leaving only a narrow window for observing Comet Hartley 2 at its brightest around now.

Comet 103P Hartley from as seen from a four inch telescope, October 6th, 2010.

The comet passed within 0.12 AU of the Earth on October 20, 2010, only eight days before coming to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on October 28, 2010. In early November the comet will be visible around midnight without interference from the Moon.

The Deep Impact spacecraft, which had previously photographed Comet Tempel 1, is now being reused by NASA to study Hartley 2. The initial plan was for a flyby of Comet Boethin. However, astronomers found that Boethin was too faint to be observed, and its orbit could not be calculated with sufficient precision to permit a flyby. NASA retargeted the spacecraft toward Hartley 2 instead.

Deep Impact is a NASA space probe launched on January 12, 2005. It was designed to study the composition of the comet interior of 9P/Tempel, by releasing an impactor into the comet. At 5:52 UTC on July 4, 2005, the impactor successfully collided with the comet’s nucleus. The impact excavated debris from the interior of the nucleus, allowing photographs of the impact crater. The photographs showed the comet to be more dusty and less icy than had been expected. The impact generated a large and bright dust cloud, which unexpectedly obscured the view of the impact crater.

The Deep Impact mission was planned to help answer fundamental questions about comets, which included what makes up the composition of the comet’s nucleus, what depth the crater would reach from the impact, and where the comet originated in its formation. By observing the composition of the comet, astronomers hoped to determine how comets form based on the differences between the interior and exterior makeup of the comet. Observations of the impact and its aftermath would allow astronomers to attempt to determine the answers to these questions.

Our autumn almanac 08.10.2010 – 14.10.2010

Posted in astronomical time on October 8, 2010 by espacelab

Our autumn almanac 01.10.2010 – 07.10.2010

Posted in astronomical time on October 1, 2010 by espacelab

The Speed of Light
The month of October begins, its name meaning the eighth is another leftover of the Roman ten month calendar year. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod says of this month that “when the Sun’s strength stops scorching and sweltering, and mighty Zeus sends autumn rain, and people move more comfortably, then by day Sirius passes overhead briefly by day, and travels more at night”. Looking at the night sky this week you will see the star patterns of early autumn that includes the very prominent constellation of Pegasus.

When you look up at the sky at night, if the sky is clear of clouds, and the street lighting where you live is not too bright, you will see stars shining with a brightness that helps us imagine they are much closer to us than they really are. All of the stars we can see in the night sky are incredibly distant from us. Even our nearest star, the Sun, which lights our daylight hours is a distance from us that is hard to understand.

It takes over 8 minutes for a particle of light, or a photon, to travel the 93 million miles between the Sun’s surface and the Earth’s surface. If you were to set out on a journey of this sort of distance, travelling at the average speed we would travel on a car journey, it would take about 300 years.

When you see the Sun setting in the west, the last rays of sunlight you see, just before the Sun sets below the horizon, began their journey on the Sun’s surface over 8 minutes before, even though these photons were travelling towards us at 186,000 miles a second.

The distance it takes for a particle of light to travel for one year is a unit of measurement used in astronomy called a “light year”. This is a mind-boggling distance of 5,879,000,000,000 miles.

Our Sun is one of a group of 100,000 million stars that form the galaxy we see in the night sky as a bright ribbon of stars called the Milky Way. Our galaxy is a spiral galaxy that is so wide that it would take a particle of light travelling at 186,000 miles per second 100,000 years to travel from one edge of the galaxy to the other.

Our Solar System is on the inner edge of one of the spiral arms of the galaxy. This spiral arm is called the Carina-Centaurus arm. This is our galactic address. Our galaxy is always turning and spinning in space, and where our Sun and planet Earth are on the spiral arm, a journey to complete one turn of this star wheel will take about 225,000,000 years. This period of time is called the ‘cosmic year’.