Our autumn almanac 12.11.2010 – 18.11.2010

Posted in astronomical time on November 12, 2010 by espacelab

This week sees Fri 12 the anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah in 1817, the founder of the Baha’i faith.

Early life

Bahá’u’lláh, which means the glory of God in Arabic, was born Mirza Husayn Ali in 1817 into one of Persia’s most noble and privileged families.

In his early life he had a relatively limited education (which was normal for the class from which he came). He learned horsemanship (he was known as a fine horseman), swordsmanship, poetry and calligraphy (he was also renowned as an excellent poet and calligrapher).

His Islamic education was strictly non-technical, but despite this, his knowledge of Islam (and of other religions) was far beyond what could have been expected of someone from the wealthy governing class.

This is important because Bahá’u’lláh used his limited education to reinforce his claim to divine revelation. He argued that since he had not spent years studying the Qur’an and Arabic, how else could he be able to write as he did in Arabic? And there is no evidence to suggest that he devised his writings through his own intellectual thoughts.
Contact with the Báb

In 1844, just 3 months after the Báb’s declaration, Mulla Husayn carried a scroll of the Báb’s to Bahá’u’lláh.

On reading it, Bahá’u’lláh recognised the claims of the Báb and at the age of 27 became his follower.

From then on, although they never met, Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb were in constant correspondence and when the Báb knew that he would soon die, he sent his pens, seals and papers to Bahá’u’lláh.

It was at Bahá’u’lláh’s explicit instructions that the remains of the Báb were removed from Tabriz to Tihran and hidden in a place of safety.

Two years after the Báb’s death, Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned in Tihran, accused of taking part in the attempted assassination of the Shah of Persia.

He was put in stocks and, for three days, given neither food nor water.

Other Bábis were imprisoned with him and as they sat in chains, Bahá’u’lláh taught them to chant prayers which were heard by the Shah.

Nov Sun 14
Remembrance Sunday

The second Sunday of November is marked by ceremonies at war memorials and cenotaphs to remember those who gave their lives in conflicts.

Nov Mon 15
Shichigosan (7-5-3 festival) (Shinto )

A festival to give thanks for children. Often celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the 15th to allow working parents to take part.

On this day parents take boys of three and five years old and girls of three and seven to give thanks to the gods for a healthy life so far and pray for a safe and successful future.

The festival of Shichigosan is named after the ages of the children taking part – seven (shichi), five (go), three (san).

Nov Wed 17
Eid-Ul-Adha (Muslim )

Festival of Sacrifice marking the day after Arafat. The Day of Arafat is the most important day in the Hajj ritual. This is a four day holiday

This is a four-day public holiday in Muslim countries.

The festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to.
Ibrahim’s sacrifice

God appeared in a dream to Ibrahim and told him to sacrifice his son Isma’il. Ibrahim and Isma’il set off to Mina for the sacrifice.

As they went, the devil attempted to persuade Ibrahim to disobey God and not to sacrifice his beloved son. But Ibrahim stayed true to God, and drove the devil away.

As Ibrahim prepared to kill his son God stopped him and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead.

Ibrahim’s complete obedience to the will of God is celebrated by Muslims each year.

Each Muslim, as they celebrate, reminds themselves of their own submission to God, and their own willingness to sacrifice anything to God’s wishes.

During the festival Muslims who can afford to, sacrifice domestic animals, usually sheep, as a symbol of Ibraham’s sacrifice. (British law insists that the animals must be killed in a proper slaughterhouse.)

The meat is distributed among family, friends and the poor, who each get a third share.


Our autumn almanac 05.11.2010 – 11.11.2010

Posted in astronomical time on November 5, 2010 by espacelab

This week sees Diwali, the Festival of Light, fall on the same day as Guy Fawkes Night.

Diwali comes at the end of October or early November. It’s a festival that Sikhs, Hindus and Jains celebrate.

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is the most popular of all the festivals from South Asia. It is also an occasion for celebration by Jains and Sikhs.

The festival of Diwali extends over five days. Because of the lights, fireworks and sweets involved, it’s a great favourite with children.

The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, although the actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India.

Diwali dates

The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar so it varies in the Western calendar. It usually falls in October or November.

Diwali is a New Year festival in the Vikrama calendar, where it falls on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartika.

Business people regard it as a favourable day to start a new accounting year because of the festival’s association with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

Diwali is also used to celebrate a successful harvest.
A row of lights

The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights.

Diwali is known as the ‘festival of lights’ because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.

The lamps are lit to help the goddess Lakshmi find her way into people’s homes. They also celebrate one of the Diwali legends, which tells of the return of Rama and Sita to Rama’s kingdom after fourteen years of exile.

In India oil lamps are often floated across the river Ganges – it is regarded as a good omen if the lamp manages to get all the way across.

Fireworks are a big part of the Diwali celebrations, although in recent years there has been a move against them because of noise and atmospheric pollution and the number of accidental deaths and injuries.

For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619.

The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Guru Hargobind and 52 princes. The Emperor was asked to release Guru Hargobind which he agreed to do. However, Guru Hargobind asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave.

However, Guru Hargobind had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string and leave prison.

Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.
The Festival of Lights

The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights.

Diwali is known as the ‘festival of lights’ because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called Diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.

In towns in India (and in Britain) electric lights are often used in Diwali displays.

In India oil lamps are often floated across the river Ganges – it is regarded as a good omen if the lamp manages to get all the way across.

Like Christmas in the West, Diwali is very much a time for buying and exchanging gifts. Traditionally sweets and dried fruit were very common gifts to exchange, but the festival has become a time for serious shopping, leading to anxiety that commercialism is eroding the spiritual side of the festival. In most years shopkeepers expect sales to rise substantially in the weeks before the festival.

Diwali is also a traditional time to redecorate homes and buy new clothes. Diwali is also used to celebrate a successful harvest.

Lakshmi, wealth and prosperity

For many Indians the festival honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

People start the new business year at Diwali, and some Hindus will say prayers to the goddess for a successful year.

Some people build a small altar to the goddess and decorate it with money and with pictures of the rewards of wealth, such as cars and houses.

Hindus will leave the windows and doors of their houses open so that Lakshmi can come in. Rangoli are drawn on the floors – rangoli are patterns and the most popular subject is the lotus flower. This because images of Lakshmi traditionally show her either holding a lotus or sitting on one.

There is much feasting and celebration, and the Diwali lamps are regarded as making it easy for Lakshmi to find her way to favoured houses.

The goddess Kali is celebrated at Diwali in the Bengali and Oriya areas of India.

Some Diwali legends

Two of the legends of Diwali show the triumph of Good over Evil and tell of the destruction of two monsters that preyed on humanity.

The killing of the demon Narakaasura

The demon Narakaasura was the evil king of Pragjyotishpur, near Nepal. He ruled with a reign of terror, abducted 16,000 daughters of the gods and stole the earings of Aditi, mother of the gods.

The gods asked Lord Krishna for help and after a mighty battle he killed the demon, freed the girls and recovered the earrings.

The rescue of the 16,000 girls is said to be the origin of the story that Krishna had 16,000 wives. After his victory Krishna returned very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is still a Diwali tradition.

The killing of the demon Ravana

Ravana, who had ten arms and ten heads, was the wicked king of the island of Sri Lanka, who kidnapped the wife of Rama. Rama had been in exile for 14 years because of a disagreement as to whether he or his brother should be the next king in Ayodhya.

After a great battle Rama killed the demon and recovered his wife. Rama’s return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya and his subsequent coronation as king is celebrated at Diwali.

When Rama and Sita first returned to Ayodhya it was a dark moonless night and they couldn’t see where they were going. Their people put little lamps outside their houses so that the new king and queen could find their way, thus beginning the tradition of the festival of lights.

The 11th of November is Armistice Day

This day commemorates and marks the end of the First World War on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. At 1100 on this day people in the UK pause for 2 minutes of silence to remember those who gave their lives in past conflicts.

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’.