Miscellaneous Science

Guitar Stars – A Love for the Night Sky

February 16, 2017
Buzz Lightyear

We are on the heels of the Grammys, so shouldn’t I be talking about guitar stars as the post title suggests?

The answer is no.

I am grossly unable to identify musicians, lyrics, song titles, songs and their corresponding artists (except maybe the Rolling Stones, Tim McGraw, Billy Joel, Prince, Michael Jackson and the guy married to Nicole Kidman), thus making me terribly unqualified to write about modern-day musicians.

“Who sings this?” is a statement my husband likes to ask me in the car while offering some carrot reward if I get it right.  I never get it right.  I never get the prize.  I finally just started saying Soft Cell to every one of his inquiries because about ten years ago that was the answer to one of the songs.  He still likes to play this game.  Maybe it is because I am always right about everything else and this game gives him the satisfaction of being right one time.

Just kidding 😉

No.  This post has nothing to do with real guitar stars in the literal sense.  It is a little more out there, as in outer space.

I have always been in awe of the night sky. It is seemingly endless and reaches farther than the imagination. When you look up at the night sky you become untethered to this world and lost in an infinite gaze.

When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that desire was snuffed out when I was in the fifth grade and the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded into the sky. The video of the disaster was rerun again and again by the nightly news and as the trails of smoky debris were replayed falling back to Earth they quickly erased my dream. Looking back, it is a good thing the dream was snuffed out. It is unfortunate it was by such a terrible disaster.

In my twenties I rode Mission Space at Disney World and I was not right for the rest of the day. Mission Space. Is a ride. At Disney World. Little kids ride it. Old people ride it. They are not trained to ride it. I will not ride it again. I did not ride it and did not subject my children to it during our recent trip to Disney World.

Astronauts are a select few.  Five-hundred fifty-three people world-wide have been into space (and I think that includes the billionaire civilians who paid to go). I will not extend your reading commitment on this post to learn what it takes to become an astronaut, but know this: not only are there education and experience requirements there are physical requirements. You have to be healthy. They can’t just call an Uber and send you to the ER on the moon if you fall terribly ill. Imagine the roaming charges on that phone call.

You also must be able to ride Mission Space at Disney.

So, if I had met with my dream of becoming an astronaut, it is likely I would have hopped aboard the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle takes 8 minutes to accelerate to a speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour. While in orbit, the Space Shuttle travels 17,500 miles per hour allowing the crew to see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Wow. The Space Shuttle and its boosters ready for launch are the same height as the Statue of Liberty, but it weighs three times as much. Endeavor was the last Space Shuttle launched into space in 2010. That wrapped up 134 flights into space.

Let’s get back to the infinite reaches of the sky and more-specifically to the stars.  Shall we Buzz?

Buzz - Stars

My love of the stars was ingrained in me by my dad, who used to sit with the younger of my two older sisters and me on the front steps of our house in Virginia on warm summer nights accompanied by his Gibson guitar. The concrete step was so smooth and cool hand-troweled by his carpenter hands. He would sing songs and point out the constellations at our fingertips while the crickets and peepers serenaded us from behind the boxwoods. As I reflect on that I am mesmerized. Not just the sweetness of the memory that I have, but how on Earth he actually accomplished pointing out stars and constellations to two little girls.

I have tried this with my own brood and, unless it is Venus shining straight ahead practically brighter than the sun itself, it is very difficult!  My dad even successfully showed us the Seven Sisters, a cluster of stars tightly positioned (not so tightly way out there in the sky though). You could see the ‘last’ one of the cluster only if you looked slightly away and it would twinkle on and off like your eyes were controlling the switch as they looked at it and looked away over and over again. Due to this effect, and the fact that little eyes loose count, it is hard to count how many there really are.

Here is little bit more about that star cluster and a few of my other favorite ‘constellations:’

The Seven Sisters or Pleiades

The Seven Sisters is located in the Taurus constellation. It is one of the nearest star clusters to earth and most prominent in the sky between the months of October and April. According to the star experts it is the easiest star cluster to find because of its brightness and size.

Okay. I have tried like the dickens to show this to my children. I humbly disagree.

In any case, the cluster contains about 3,000 stars with up to 14 being visible to the naked eye. I guess my little girl self was not very dependable for counting, but I do remember having some confusion about how many stars there were and why it was called the Seven Sisters.

The mass of the cluster is estimated to equal to 800 solar masses and it is estimated to be between 75 and 150 million years old. It is most prominent in the sky in winter in the northern hemisphere and in summer in southern latitudes.

Pleiades is famous like our friend Orion’s Belt (referenced below) and is mentioned not only in the Bible, but also The Iliad, The Odyssey and the Quran. The Aztecs, who were great innovators, based their calendar on the cluster. When it rose in the east before dawn it marked the beginning of their year.

The Big Dipper

My absolute favorite is The Big Dipper, which is not a constellation at all.  It is an asterism or prominent group of stars, which is smaller than a constellation.

The air in my room was depleted by my gasp when I discovered this fact. My heart is a little broken.  It is the same feeling I had when Pluto was demoted.  Did anyone else learn the planet order by the sentence:  “My (Mercury) very (Venus) educated (Earth) mother (Mars) just (Jupiter) served (Saturn) us (Uranus) nine (Neptune) pizzas (Pluto).”  Kids today aren’t getting any pizzas or the planet Pluto.

The Big Dipper is part of a real constellation called Ursa Major or the Great Bear. The 7 stars that form the Big Dipper are the brightest and most-noticeable within the constellation Ursa Major. As a matter of fact, one of the stars in the Big Dipper is the 31st brightest star in the sky. It’s the third star from the left on the handle. I probably should abandon this constellation poser and move on to talk about Ursa Major, but I cannot orphan this set of stars in this star discussion.

Did you know that the Big Dipper does not sink below the horizon at night? As a result of the Earth’s rotation Ursa Major appears to rotate slowly counter-clockwise at night around the north celestial pole. It can be found in the spring and summer higher overhead and in fall and winter closer to the horizon. Spring – up. Fall – down. The appearance also changes season to season. In the fall it can be seen on the horizon in the evening and in winter the handle looks like it is dangling from the bowl. In spring it is upside down in the evening and in summer the bowl part leans toward the sky.

Since I am bitter about the Great Bear and the fact it sees the Big Dipper as just an appendage of sorts I am going to talk about it last. Instead, I’m moving on to the Little Dipper! Happy dance. Fond childhood memory. But guess what?! It is not a constellation either! It is a formation of the seven brightest stars in Ursa Minor.

You guessed it Little Bear. Eye roll. Moving on.

But, if you find my BFF the Big Dipper it is the easiest way to find Polaris, the North Star, which is located in Ursa Minor. Because the Big Dipper rotates around the north celestial pole, as mentioned above, it always points to the North Star. If you draw a line through the two outer stars of the bowl from bottom to top and extend the line it will intersect with the North Star.

So that should help you if you ever get lost star gazing because you happened to read this. Either that or you can follow running water out of the wilderness. Let me know if I saved your life with that invaluable lesson.

True fact: the Big Dipper helped guide slaves in the Underground Railroad, as its position in the sky helped slaves find their way north.

Orion’s Belt

Well. You probably know this. I obviously never took constellation 101 and just like my faves above – Orion’s Belt is not a constellation.  It is also an asterism. If you lived in ancient Egypt you would believe that the gods descended from Sirius and the Belt of Orion and began the human race. As a matter of fact, it is theorized that the three pyramids on the Giza Plateau mirror the alignment of the belt stars and the air shafts within the pyramids point directly to the Orion constellation. A similar thing was found in the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico. Two pyramids and a temple point to Orion’s Belt and together they mimic the three belt stars.

All of this belt talk is making me think about fashion and whether one’s belt should still match one’s shoes.  I’ll have to figure that out later. Message me on FB if you know.  Onward to the one who popped my childhood memories of ‘constellations’ and sent them deflated to Earth.

Ursa Major

You know what this is. The Big Bear. Blah Blah. It is a constellation. Lucky it. It also happens to be one of the oldest. It is referenced by Homer (author of The Illiad and The Odyssey) and in the Bible. It also takes the yellow ribbon for being the third largest constellation in the sky.  The most important thing to remember?  The Big Dipper asterism is in it!

Those are just a few of my ‘guitar star’ memories, but my hope is it causes you to pause and consider our vast universe and that you will take little hands and guide them out into the yard and see what you can see together in the endless night sky.

After all, the ancient world developed a lot of theories related to the stars. Perhaps if we spend a little more time star gazing, we might be able to find answers to some of the questions we have.

Journey on…to infinity and beyond!  And, so you don’t get left behind be sure you subscribe on my page and follow me on FaceBook!

xo mamabrain

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