Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Most benign star

A few lines from Diane Ackerman's The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral:
At night I lie awake
In the ruthless Unspoken,
knowing that planets
come to life, bloom,
and die away,
like day-lilies opening
one after another…
I've mentioned before that our bed here in Ireland looks out a big window to the south. From our hillside nothing blocks the view of the sky -- cinematic, Imaxy, star-bedazzled. All summer long Jupiter has dominated the night, blazing like a spotlight from its perch in Pisces. No, "perch" is not the right word, implying stability. The planet has been doing a bit of to-and-froing, like a blossom waving in the wind. At the beginning of August it halted its eastward progress and began a three-month retrograde crawl to the west. Of course, the reversal is only an illusion; the Earth is overtaking Jupiter in our respective orbits. On September 21 the giant planet will be directly opposite the Sun in Earth's sky, dead south at midnight, and at maximum brightness -- magnitude -3. By then we'll be in another bed, on another continent, with no view of the sky at all, still awake with the "ruthless Unspoken" but without Father Jupiter to bestow his benedictions.