And so it came to pass that Wise Men in the East observed a new star and, upon interpreting the signs, made their way to…
I don’t know how they did it. I look up at the night sky and see the great nothingness of space, emphasis on ‘nothing’. I miss everything remotely astronomical: I missed the Perseid and Geminid meteor showers earlier this year, I’ve never seen a shooting star, even the star chart app I downloaded onto this thing doesn’t help me. “We are all in the gutter,” said Oscar Wilde, “But some of us are looking at the stars. Except Matt over there, he’s trying to look at them but a moth’s flown into his eye.”
I’m exagerating a little. I saw Hale-Bopp as the comet hung in the night sky for days, leading to tragedy for the Heaven’s Gate cult. I also saw the total solar eclipse of 1999, standing outside work’s service entrance. Some people on the roof danced to bring back the sun – I’m assuming they weren’t being totally serious.
The latest one I missed was this morning’s lunar eclipse, historical because it took place on the winter solstice and that hasn’t happened for hundreds of years. I thought it was taking place tonight, not this morning when I was warmly tucked up in bed against the cold, and so another astronomical wonder passed me by.
Lunar eclipses have been used and abused a lot. When the indigenous people of Jamaica cut off food supplies after finally getting sick of a beached Christopher Columbus screwing them over, Columbus used his knowledge of an eclipse in 1504 to convince them that God was displeased and that He’d take away the Moon until they continued to provide food. None of which helps to convince me that Columbus wasn’t an utter swinebag. Meanwhile, about 50 years earlier in 1453, a lunar eclipse heralded the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire and, consequently, the end of the Middle Ages and the birth of the Renaissance.
(I’d’ve somehow missed all that as well.)
So with all that in mind an eclipse hides the moon on the shortest day of the year, as we walk, shivering, out of 2010 and into 2011. This time around it’s not really heralding anything except the end of the year – I don’t think snow chaos and Wikileaks are that catastrophic, despite what the media and politians say – but I’m sure it was impressive nonetheless.
(By the way, and talking of space, did you know that every morning NASA plays various songs to its active missions to wake up the crew? This is the list of songs that have been beamed into space since the Gemini programme…)
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