Sunday, April 4, 2010

This is a Planisphere

I've been fascinated by the stars for as long as I can remember.  When my father lived in Adams Morgan, a neighborhood of Washington DC, I remember dragging him to the Duke Ellington bridge to look at the stars on one of my visits.  This is amusing because, for those of you that aren't city people, the sky never gets darker than purple in Washington, DC, and at best one will see about 5 stars in the entire sky.

I avidly read science and astronomy books and wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up.  I guess I took a long detour. 

A few years ago when I lived in DC myself, a few blocks from the Air and Space Museum, I visited the place and got myself one of these here planispheres.  It's two pieces of circular plastic, joined by a rivet at the center.  The bottom piece has stars and constellations with the months on the outside rim and the top piece has a frame with clear space in the middle - and hours of the day on the outside rim.  You rotate the top piece to match the time with the date.  So, for example on April first at 10pm, the constellations you see above would be visible in the sky.

This planisphere isn't the same one that I bought in DC.  That one went overseas with me, and one night a group of us spent the night in the Jordanian desert.  The bedouin host was extremely interested in my planisphere and so I gave it to him.  I found out later that it was me he was interested in, not so much the plastic circular thing.  I entertained some very brief daydreams about becoming the second wife of a bedouin in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but as you can see, he is still in Wadi Rum and I'm not.  It seems a little fantastical, but when I left Jordan I needed to replace the planisphere I had given away.  My father bought this one at the same museum in DC and took it to Oregon.  Then my mother brought it when she visited me in Holland and I brought it back to the US with me.  It's very well traveled!  Not so simple for something that is 16 inches in diameter.

But really, it's that useful!  Get one of these things, put some red nail polish on a flashlight lens and take both outside as often as possible after dark.  It won't be long before the patterns start making sense and you'll start to feel a connection as I do, to those people thousands of years ago all over the world who looked at the stars and saw stories of gods and men in them.

No comments:

Post a Comment