Sunday, October 13:
Since July we have been watching as Jupiter transits the constellation Gemini. At five-thirty in the morning it is the brightest object in the night sky excepting the moon, when there is a moon. Gemini at that time is something south of east, and now, in mid-October, maybe fifty degrees above the horizon, as the Earth moves toward winter in the Northern Hemisphere; the long spearhead of Castor, Pollux, and Alhena is aimed directly at the Hunter’s head, forever poised but never launched. Jupiter is just passing out of this long triangle. His passage across the Twins has been ours to observe every clear morning, one of the fruits that fall to the hand of the early riser.
By half-last five the Big Dipper stands on its handle above the Northern Horizon, tossing a cupful of stars westward into the scoop handle of its little brother. The tiny dipper, the Pleiades, is near zenith, but so dim that when there is a bright moon it may be hard to spot if you don’t know where to look. We can identify Cassiopeia, high in the west, and Canis Major, crouching beneath Orion’s feet where they are planted firmly in the southern quadrant, but many years of study will no doubt make only a small dent in all there is to see with the unaided eye. Nevertheless, it deepens our sense of belonging to the Universe, and reaffirms our belief that Nature is more than tolerant of our presence, to find that the world is knowable, and beautiful, and orderly. The bright, unchanging constellations are peaceful companions in a darkness that once, in our imaginations, only harbored the macabre escapees from ghost story and slasher flick.