Friday, June 17, 2011

Stunning video and the significance of the Milky Way and Scorpion

Here is a link to an amazing new video by Daniel Lowe entitled "Night Motion Timelapse: Outer Banks," showing the skies from North Carolina's Outer Banks in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras.

The video contains stunning images of the Milky Way, and to the right of it the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpio or Scorpius) with the red star Antares at its heart. If you are unfamiliar with the Scorpion, it is a beautiful and important constellation, most prominent during the summer (it is opposite to Orion and each is absent from the sky when the other is present due to the process described in this post).

The constellation can be traced out by looking to the right of the Milky Way in the video, facing upwards from the horizon, its claws forming an arc perpendicular to the line of its body (somewhat like the capital-letter "T") above the red Antares, its long serpentine body stretching out below Antares and curling to a stinger below (the direction of the stinger's curve is like a capital-letter "J").

Sagittarius the Archer guards the other side of this portion of the Milky Way (stationed on the left side of the milky band, just as the Scorpion is stationed on the right). It is a little more difficult to trace out, but is also a spectacular constellation and once recognized quite easy to see -- check out H.A. Rey's superlative books on finding the constellations, linked in this previous post.

The Milky Way and the constellation Scorpio played a very important role in the ancient mythology encoding the ancients' understanding of precession. Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend devote an entire chapter to the Milky Way in Hamlet's Mill. They tell us that the Milky way:
was not only the most spectacular band of heaven, it was also a reference point from which the Precession could be imagined to have taken its start. This would have been when the vernal equinoctial sun left its position in Gemini in the Milky Way. When it was realized the sun had been there once, the idea occurred that the Milky Way might mark the abandoned track of the sun -- a burnt-out area, as it were, a scar in heaven. 245.
The reference to the equinoctial sun once rising in Gemini in the passage above refers to the Age prior to the Age of Taurus (the shifting Ages are mentioned in this previous post, and are caused by the celestial mechanics of precession, discussed in the Orion post and in the Red Ice Radio interview, where it is described in a way that should be fairly understandable).

De Santillana and von Dechend go on to explain that this image of the Milky Way as an abandoned road gave rise to a formula "by which the Milky Way became the way of the spirits of the dead, a road abandoned by the living" (246). We have seen that myths encoding knowledge of the celestial realm often describe it as the landscape of "the other world" or the "underworld" (see this post on Socrates' description of the hereafter just before his death in Plato's Phaedo, and the assertion that the rivers of the underworld such as Acheron and Styx actually relate to the windings of the planets). There are many legends around the world in which a scorpion figure (usually a scorpion-goddess) receives the souls of the dead -- Hamlet's Mill details several such legends on page 295: from Egypt (the scorpion goddess Selket), the ancient Hurrians (the scorpion goddess Ishara), and the anceint Mayans (the "Old Goddess with a scorpion's tail," who is also depicted in the Maya codex Tro-Cortesianus).

The idea that the Milky Way is the burned-out path of a "former sun" (a former sun meaning a sun that once rose equinoctially there but has since moved on due to precession) is also encoded in the critically important legend of Phaethon, the son of Helios who begged to drive his father's sun-chariot and lost control, causing disasters on earth and who was finally thrown down from heaven by Zeus in order to save the sun and the world. Ancient myths said that the ashes of his reckless path remain as the Milky Way. Phaethon is also an extremely important figure, and receives a chapter of his own in Hamlet's Mill.

Enjoy the gorgeous time-lapse video above from Daniel Lowe of Daniel Dragon Films. Postcards and still images from this and other videos by the artist are available via the links below.

Night Motion Timelapse: Outer Banks from Daniel Dragon Films on Vimeo.