Thursday, April 28, 2011

Four planets

Try to get up early tomorrow morning.

An hour before sunrise, the waning crescent moon will be above the eastern horizon, as described in this article from Sky & Telescope. Below it and closer to the horizon will be Venus as well as Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury. Binoculars will be necessary to spot Jupiter and Mercury, and Mars will be a real challenge as it is lined up very close to Jupiter (see the illustration in the article linked above).

During the night, Saturn is also visible, arcing along the path of the ecliptic through the sky. Because the paths of Venus and Mercury are closer to the sun than earth, we always see them relatively near the sun, either the rising or the setting sun.

The outer planets, whose paths are further from the sun than earth's, may travel all the way across the sky and are not "tethered" to the sun the way Venus and Mercury appear to be from earth. If you think about it, you will realize why you will never see Mercury or Venus high in the night sky when the sun is on the other side of the earth; if you were looking out into the night from earth and saw Venus out there, it would mean that Venus was traveling along an orbit outside of the earth's orbit around the sun (because when you are on earth looking out into the night along the path of the ecliptic, the sun is "behind your back").

Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend have this to say in Hamlet's Mill about the importance of the planets:
But obviously there is more, and what emerges here lifts the veil of a fundamental archaic design. The real actors on the stage of the universe are very few, if their adventures are many. The most "ancient treasure" -- in Aristotle's word -- that was left to us by our predecessors of the High and Far-Off Times was the idea that the gods are really stars, and that there are no others. The forces reside in the starry heavens, and all the stories, characters and adventures narrated by mythology concentrate on the active powers among the stars, who are the planets. 177.
This is a fundamental concept to their thesis. The interpretation of the last sentence quoted above is important. Stated more directly, it declares: "the planets are the active powers among the stars." They are the ones who shift their places, who move among the fixed stars of the constellations. In de Santillana and von Dechend's words, "the constellations were seen as the setting, or the dominating influences, or even only the garments at the appointed time by the Powers in various disguises on their way through their heavenly adventures" (177). The Powers, in other words, are the planets; the constellations are the disguises or garments that the planets put on and take off.

You can see four of them over the next few mornings, if you only get up early enough.