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Volume 16, Issue 42 - October 16 - October 22, 2008
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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

Autumn’s Watery Skies

These constellations are dim, but their celestial roles are bright

The gibbous moon wanes to full Tuesday the 14th, passing through the faint constellations of autumn. While Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces are three of the faintest and least distinct of the zodiacal constellations, they have played prominent roles throughout the millennia.

Capricornus the sea-goat appears as a large triangle low in southern skies. During the birth of civilization 5,000 years ago, Capricornus was one of the most important constellations as the sun reached its southern apex amid its stars on winter solstice, December 22nd. Since then, our celestial backdrop has shifted due to earth’s 231⁄2-degree axis in what is termed the precession of the equinoxes. Earth’s relation to the sun, however, hasn’t changed, and to this day, the sun hovers above the Tropic of Capricorn on winter solstice.

Again, despite having no dazzling stars, Aquarius the water bearer was an important figure. You’ll need good eyes and a better imagination to discern the figure of a boy emptying a bucket. But in the arid clime of earliest civilization, the appearance of this faint constellation coincided with the start of the rainy season.

In ancient times, from Persia to Babylonia to Greece, the dim stars of Pisces have been seen as two fishes swimming in the celestial sea. For the past 1,500 years or so, the sun lies within Pisces at vernal equinox. While indistinct, the stars of Pisces form one of the larger constellations, with one fish beside the figure of Andromeda and the other between Pegasus and Aquarius.

Tuesday’s Hunter’s Moon, also called the Blood Moon, swims with the fishes of Pisces, rising with sunset before 6:30 and setting as the sun rises around 7:15.


Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2007 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.

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