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Volume 15, Issue 8 ~ February 22 - February 28, 2007

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

All Signs Point to Spring

The pulse of the earth is quickening

Despite our recent icy, cold spell, signs of spring are everywhere as the earth wakes from its winter sleep. Deep within the still-bare trees, life again flows in the form of sap in this month of syruping. In the fields and on the farms, livestock begins to milk in preparation for the coming birthing season. In the air, the first spring birds busy themselves preparing nests for their coming hatchlings.

Called the quickening, these last few weeks before the vernal equinox bring some of the greatest seasonal changes. Perhaps most noticeable to those of us on two legs is the growing length of daylight. As of Saturday, February 24, we have gained 35 minutes of sunlight in the morning and more than an hour at day’s end since solstice, December 21. Now, as the earth reaches an apex in its elliptical orbit around the sun, the days will grow longer all the faster, adding another half-hour of sunlight at both daybreak and day’s end between now and equinox March 21.

Overhead, too, the changing constellations foretell the coming of spring. With nightfall around 7:00, the familiar shape of Leo the lion crouches over the eastern horizon, its blazing heart, Regulus, piercing the darkness. Following the great lion is Virgo, the goddess of crops and harvest, holding in her hand an ear of wheat in the form of the brilliant star Spica.

Behind those two zodiacal constellations is Boötes, the herdsman of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. In Greek legend, Boötes is Arcas, son of the nymph Callisto and Zeus and the first to tie a team of oxen to plow, revolutionizing farming and ushering in the era of agriculture that led to the rise of civilization. Each year, Boötes returns to our evening skies to usher in the spring planting.

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