Helix Nebula in AquariusCredit: wikimedia

May 7th is the Astronomy Day 2011. The theme is “Bringing Astronomy to the People.” This PR event is being hailed as an international astronomy day at unlikely sites like shopping malls, and likely sites as parks, museums, observatories, nature centers and libraries to name a few. It is meant to turn curious seekers on to the known facts, and unknown wonders of the oldest science - basically from one watcher of the skies to another.

Public events from astronomy clubs, planetariums and others will offer viewing events, hands-on activities, and even telescope workshops. Some of the notices are billed as “national astronomy day,” but from my understanding this is celebrated internationally. Regardless, it is all about astronomy day and night.

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is happening May 5th, 6th, and 7th.  The moon will be waxing crescent so dark skies will make for good viewing. The peak is predicted for pre-dawn hours May 6th. Those viewing the meteor shower from the southern hemisphere will see more meteors flying around the cosmos. A meteor shower consists of phenomenoms of light flashes. Meteors are not falling stars, rather they are cosmic debris that didn’t make it when a sun or planet was being formed. The debris can be in the form of asteroids, comets, meteoroids, and dust. An actual meteor is the streak of light from the debris. “Most meteors are produced by meteoroids with masses ranging from a few milligrams (a grain of sand) to a few grains (a marble-size rock)” (In Quest of the Universe, Kahn). Meteoroids are interplanetary matter chunks smaller than asteroids. Occasionally a meteor shower will produce a fireball. That is an extremely bright meteor and over 10,000 fireballs can be seen daily in the night sky. The light show is mesmerizing, and dreamy, I highly suggest star staring, or sky watching.

Meteors are thought to appear from a constellation that the earth is moving towards. The single point in the sky is called a radiant. The pattern of annual meteor showers gave a conclusion that meteoroids of the showers came from the tail of a comet. Indeed most annual meteor showers are associated with a comet. The Lyrids are associated with Comet 1861 I, and the Eta Aquarids are associated with Comet Halley. The radiant of the Eta Aquarids is the constellation Aquarius.

I think it’s pretty cool for this celestial event to precede Astronomy Day, in fact it may still be viewable on the 7th. So, do get outside under the cover of darkness and remember our human DNA comes from the stars. Or so I’ve heard.

Aquarius is a Zodiac constellation symbolizing water-bearer or cup-bearer. Aquarius is one of the oldest constellations, traced back to Babylonians, and records contained in Ptolemy’s work. Ancient star catalogs definitely included this constellation. The astrological perspective is that we entered the age of Aquarius in the 20th century, although more astrologers tend toward the entering in the 22nd century. The mythology goes like this. Ganymede was a beautiful boy (a Trojan prince) whose father was a man named Tros. He was a mortal, and yet Zeus found his mortal son a true wonder to behold because he was so fine to look at. So, the almighty Zeus carried (stole, kidnapped, took) him off to be a servant to the gods. Ganymede became the cup-bearer of the wine that the gods enjoyed. Poor Tros was desolate without his son. Lo and behold, Zeus actually took pity on him. He sent some fast horses to him (the ones the gods rode) via Hermes (the messenger). Hermes informed Tros that Ganymede would become immortal. That information plus the horses soothed Tros, so he stopped mourning his loss of Ganymede. That is a small bit about the Greek myth. The Egyptians knew Aquarius as the Water-Bearer, and the Sumerians viewed Aquarius as a wicked god who brought nasty floods.

Go out and share your knowledge or learn some more about astronomy on Astronomy Day.

image - Helix Nebula in Aquarius- wikimedia