Friday, June 14, 2013


Special thanks to Main Man who contacted me all the way from 37 degrees South latitude with this outstanding infographic on Matariki, the Maori new year, published in the New Zealand Herald.

As you can see from the article, Matariki is the Maori name for the beautiful Pleiades, discussed in these previous blog posts, which all contain some discussion of how to find them in the sky (see here, here, and here).

The Herald infographic explains, "The reappearance of Matariki in the eastern sky before sunrise marks the beginning of the new year."  The phenomena of a star or group of stars reappearing in the sky in the east before the sunrise is called the heliacal rise of the star or group, and it is caused by the fact that as the earth goes around the sun through the year, stars rise a little earlier each day due to the progress of the earth around its orbit.  This means that they will be further and further along each night when you see them in their journey from east to west across the sky, and eventually a star will have set before the sun goes down and the stars become visible (unless the star is one of the undying stars, near enough to the pole to be visible all year around).

After that happens, the star or group of stars will be up during the day for a period, but it will still keep rising earlier and earlier and after some time of this, it will rise before the sun again, and there will be a special morning on which it will rise far enough ahead of the sun to be just visible in the east above the eastern horizon in the early morning sky, which will be lightening as the sun's rising approaches but still dark enough to perceive the returning star or stars.  When this happens for Matariki (the Pleiades), it marks the new year for the Maori.

Currently at my latitude, Matariki rises around 5 am (and getting a little earlier each day).  The sun rises about forty-five minutes later.  Therefore, if you look to the east before the sun rises, you can find the beautiful cluster of stars above the horizon, before the rising sun fills the sky with his rays.  So, no matter where you are on the globe (unless you are so far north that the sun is not currently dipping below the horizon at all), you should be able to rise early and take in the glorious spectacle of the glistening stars of Matariki, hanging in the deep blue predawn sky, signalling the start of a new year and the connection of heaven and earth.