A blog about the stars, astronomy gifts, and other starry musings by the folks behind Indigo Night.
by Van Wymelenberg
June 24, 2016
Guest Post by Glen Ward / Starry Mirror
Hello Stargazers —
A wonderful event is occurring in the heavens early this Summer, and you can see it with your own eyes on any clear evening.
The planet Mars has just experienced an “opposition.” And what’s more, it’s hanging up there close to a couple of other old friends: Saturn and the bright star Antares!
“Opposition” is just a fancy way of saying that the Earth is passing between Mars and the Sun. Our planet is a bit closer to the Sun than Mars, and every two years or so we catch up to the Red Planet, overtake it, and keep on going around. For a few weeks around opposition, Mars gets very bright and becomes large enough to show details in small Earthbound telescopes. The patient observer -- retuning for a look every few nights over the course of the next month or so -- will also see the red planet go retrograde -- appear to move backwards against the background of fixed stars. This effect is really wonderful to behold. The old ZigZag. I think that's what Aristotle called it.
This Summer, if you go outside shortly after dark and you look low in the South, you can’t miss Mars. It is a bright orange “star,” the brightest star in the Southern sky. Look a little to its left, and you will see two other bright stars. The higher up of this pair is none other than Saturn, and the lower star is Antares, in Scorpius. Antares’ name means the “anti Mars,” or the “equivalent of Mars.” So, Mars is meeting its twin – or its nemesis – this Summer!
Most of the time, Mars is no brighter than Antares, and they look almost identical in color and brightness. But during this time of opposition, Mars is much brighter. In late April, Mars approached very close to Antares heading Eastward, and the planet came to a standstill. Then it began moving West, to the right, against the stars. This is the famous zig-zagging “retrograde motion” for which Mars is famous, and which is really caused by the Earth’s own motion in “passing up” Mars. By early July, Mars will begin moving Eastward again – to the left - against the starry backdrop. So, in late August Mars will appear to pass very close to Antares for its second time this year!
These days, most new learning about Mars comes from space probes. But astronomers around the world still enjoy watching the planet around opposition. During the Golden Age of Observational Astronomy – the Victorian Era – Earthbound observation of Mars was a new frontier. Astronomers of the time gave fanciful names to the mysterious green shadings seen on the planet, like the Juventae Fons (Fountain of Youth,) the Solis Lacus (Lake of the Sun,) or the Syrtis Major (after the Gulf of Sidra, in Libya.) And, the astronomer Percival Lowell imagined these features were part of a planet-wide system of waterways which he believed indicated an intelligent Martian civilization. Today we know that there are no canals, lakes or gulfs on Mars, and these areas are mostly just “albedo features” - areas of darker shading. But, astronomers still enjoy looking for these famous Martian locales. Watching the Red Planet gives us a link to the times when there was more mystery, more room for romantic ideas, in science.
Let’s not forget about our friend Saturn, which is spending all of 2016 hanging out above Antares. It’s a yellow “star,” just a little brighter than Antares. Because Saturn is so much more distant than Mars, it appears to move against the starry backdrop much more slowly. Saturn was at opposition in early June, but the ringed planet’s great distance means that opposition makes only a little difference in how big and bright it looks. Still, the planet and its rings are a pretty sight in even very small telescopes. If you have any little telescope around, no matter how humble, try pointing it at Saturn. You may get a surprise you’ll never forget.If you are outside looking at this great conjunction of stars and planets in the Southern sky, you might notice another very bright-yellow “star” low in the West – It’s Jupiter! The biggest planet will hang out in the evening sky until mid-Summer, before it passes behind the Sun – “conjunction” – in September. Jupiter has four Moons around it which were discovered by Gallileo. Any little telescope or even some binoculars can show these Moons as little stars near the planet, so you might want to check it out.
by Van Wymelenberg
May 16, 2016
The eclipsing binary Algol, a bright star in the constellation Perseus, has long been of particular interest to Batman.
Arab astronomers knew the constellation Perseus as Hamil Ras al-Ghul or He Who Holds the Head of the Devil.
Perseus, slayer of Medusa, had some very interesting gear: a helmet that made him invisible, winged sandals that allowed him to fly (talarias) a mirror shield, a magic sickle (falx) and a magic bag (kibisis). The invincible Perseus is forever etched in the night sky holding the gorgoneion, head of Medusa, in his left hand, marked by the beautiful and bewitching Algol.
How many of DC's and Marvel's superheroes (and villains) were lifted directly from the heroes of mythology? Is it true that there are no new stories… only variations upon the themes that were set down so long ago?
Algol is a variable star, a true eclipsing binary, one of the oldest and best known. Over the course of about 3 days it noticeably brightens and dims… easily observed with the naked eye –– and clearly this was of interest to ancient astronomers and storytellers. Algol's variability was somehow associated with the dark side — this star is all about "misfortune, violence, decapitation, hanging and incitement to murder… [the] most diabolical and maleficent star of all the stars in the sky" quoting the great astronomer–scholar Giuseppe Sesti from his magnificent Glorious Constellations.
The name Algol derives from Ras al-Ghul, Head of the Devil. Sound familiar? Every hero needs a villain.
Liam Neeson portrayed Ra's al Ghul in the first film and the third film of The Dark Night Trilogy —Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.
by Van Wymelenberg
February 24, 2016
We have finished development on a new illustration – this at the request of someone whose close friend had recently lost her father, an avid sailor who loved sailing in the Virgin Islands, especially Virgin Gorda in the British Virgins. This view shows the Baths, a place with some seriously strange and wonderful rock formations… the likes of which you'll only see in a few other places – the Seychelles, I believe, but I don't know of anywhere else.
Imagine a beautiful, smooth river rock. The kind you love to hold in your hand, it's warm, round, edges worn smooth to that elongated ellipse. That is what these rocks are like, except each is the size of a small house. And they have been tumbled at the edge of paradise by the hand of some ancient mariner god. No one knows who, or how it came to be.
by Van Wymelenberg
November 25, 2015
We're back into that long dark tunnel of late autumn again, going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. I do like the extra time to see the stars though, especially during a cold, quiet, morning walk… nice not to have to get up at 4am to see the morning stars. 6 is so much more reasonable. I've been watching the beautiful Venus/Jupiter/Mars syzygy that's been playing out since late summer.
Our annual pre-Solstice sale runs from 'Black Friday' through 'Cyber Monday.' That's from the 27th through the 30th. All orders placed with the following code: Christmas_Morning_Orion will be discounted 21%.
Note that these orders are for Christmas delivery, and not our usual 3 to 4 days turn-around. You'll have them for Christmas, probably well before Christmas, so not to panic. Order early, and tell your friends. This year the December full moon – traditionally, the Long Night Moon – falls on Christmas day. It's officially full at 6:11 in the morning as it sets west in the constellation Orion.
Majestic Orion, from the Sumerian Uru-anna, meaning 'Light of the Sky.'
The night sky print which arrives for no particular reason, other than to celebrate the gift of love that is your beloved, is cherished like no other.
Each of us has a story that begins in a single moment. Poets and philosophers from Shakespeare to Tennyson, from Moore to Jung, share a common fascination with the night sky at the moment of birth, and the idea that the moon and stars stand in timeless, silent witness to this moment.
The night sky print, showing the moon and stars just as they appeared on the night you met, the moment of your first kiss, or your wedding night, is an exceptional anniversary gift. Appropriate for any year, especially so for the 1st anniversary, the year of the ‘paper’ gift.
The night sky print, showing the moon and stars just as they appeared on the child’s first starry night, with your words – funny, wise, sweet, hopeful, perhaps a favorite quote from a story or song – makes a beautiful keepsake.