Ancient European Skies

Here again is the image I showed to you in the Axial Precession article that shows you a little of what changes there were in the night sky by 4000 years ago.

The picture below is an important one, so I left it large enough for you to see. On the modern picture You see the strange symbol marking the end of the tail of the Little Dipper above where it reads Ursa Minor. On the left, ancient sky, you see the pole marked on the tail of the dragon constellation, whose head is near where it says, "Vega." Look how much farther north Polaris is on the ancient picture. Look to the right of both pictures. You can see the double heads of Castor and Pollux in the constellation of Gemini. Yet look up at Capella off the north horizon in the ancient picture and north west of the Little Dipper past the Lynx in the modern. Now look directly sought and you will see Libra and Scorpio almost off the viewing area. On the left hand picture, Scorpio is all in the viewing area.

I think comparing these two "snapshots" of the sky lets you see that the entire view of the stars we have has shifted south. Taking into consideration that the right picture is a few degrees further south in latitude, the difference is even greater. I have tried to show you the difference because it will have a bearing on another myth I talk about in the next article.

On of the things I find irritating is when you speak of ancient astronomy, everyone talks about Stonehenge. Stonehenge is an interesting monument and there has been much speculation for thousands of years about it. However, it is one of thousands of stone circles and races in Europe. What is more interesting than Stonehenge were the other circles in the area made of wood, including the Aubrey Circle of 56 posts around the center stones. These posts seem clearly to mark out the years in a metonic cycle.

The most interesting thing about Earth and the Moon is that the Moon appears to be the same size as the Sun. The odds of this are pretty amazing, for not many planets can have such spectacular eclipses as we do. So, I want you to think of a full solar eclipse. For this to happen, the Moon has to be in the same part of the sky as the Sun. They are also "in front" of a background of stars which cannot normally be seen because the Sun is too bright and washes out the night sky. The Moon and the Sun appear to move at different rates across the sky. Every few years, they are in the same sign of the Zodiac together, but they will be slightly off. We may have a partial solar eclipse. In fifty-six years, the Moon and Sun are in almost the exact position that they were in during the eclipse. However, if off by even half a degree, there will be no full solar eclipse. This cycle of time that it takes for the Sun and the Moon to be in almost identical positions is called the Metonic Cycle. It seemed to many people who looked at Stonehenge and the Aubrey Circle around it, that to divide up a circle into fifty-six was a strange number unless it was the Metonic Cycle. Given what we know of the ancients, this is quite possible. They were exacting astronomers.

This is how a circle is divided into 360 degrees, a number we inherited from ancient Babylon. Imagine this is a flat disk and you are standing in the middle looking toward 180 which will be south.

Keep imagining that you are standing in the center point and watching the stars rise and set over the course of a night. A star like Arcturus will appear to set for only a short time. A star like Acrux will just be visible for a short time at the right time of year for half of the time the sun will make star viewing impossible. Using computers, people who looked at Stonehenge were able to reconstruct where the stars rose and set.

Remember what I said about the stars shifting south. In this map, you can see that the path of Acrux is much wider and Arcturus looks visible all the time. The following are some charts of the main stars in the sky and when they are visible during the year. You can see that some are visible when others are not like Antares and Sirius. This gives rise to endless myths, a way to tell time, a way to tell the seasons and a important job for people who wanted to stay up all night watching the stars!

It's not so much the details of these graphs that I am posting, but the comparison between the two stars. At the top, you see winter (red) where Antares is shining and summer (green) where Aldebaran rules the skies. Rigel and Betelgeuse are both stars in Orion but wide enough apart that they don't rise and set exactly at the same time. In the third picture, you see the Lion star and the Fish stars never shining in the sky at the same time. The Lion rules winter and the Fish a brief time in summer, for the constellation of Pisces is below the equator. Spica (pink) in Virgo and the Pleiades (green) are seen in the sky together, although almost 110 degrees apart, yet, finally, Arcturus and Sirius have almost opposite paths.

© 2019, A.R. Stone

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