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GUEST ESSAY: Solace In The September Sky

by Mary J. Metzger
 
For those who look up this month, the planets can have a comforting presence. Venus shines beautiful in the eastern sky in the hours before dawn. She will remain a “morning star” through the end of the year.
     The Red Planet, Mars, rises a few hours after sunset and can be seen through the night. He is brightening all month, surpassing even Jupiter in luminosity.
     As they do every 20 years or so, Jupiter and Saturn are hanging out together. Look to the dome of the sky at twilight. They’ll be the first starry objects to appear. The brighter Jupiter is on the right with Saturn following behind. By year’s end the pair will reach a Great Conjunction, the likes of which has not been seen since 1623. Past astrologers gave great significance to this merger of the expansive, opportunistic, future-oriented Jupiter and the more contemplative, conservative, and sometimes depressing Saturn.
     They claimed these conjunctions marked historical periods of great change, not always smooth. It’s hard to argue with that in 2020, though this conjunction in Aquarius posits “we are all in this together.”
     How was it in 1623? Europe was in the middle of the Thirty Years War, which started as a battle between Catholic and Protestant supremacy in what is now Germany and resulted in the deaths of 8 million people. The Dutch and English were vying for control of their new-found colonial empires.
     Richard Frethorne, an indentured 12-year old servant, was sent by his parish to Virginia as “poor relief.” He sent 3 letters to his parents begging for food and died the next year from the hardships.
     Closer to home, the Anne and Little James brought more un-provisioned settlers to a struggling Plimoth Plantation. Some of these newcomers did not share the Pilgrims’ religious ideals, hoping to establish their own separate mercantile colony.
They arrived just after Myles Standish had decided a violent military offensive was the best way to deal with the natives. Standish and some other “Strangers” had been chosen by the Merchant Adventurers, the businessmen who had financed the colony, to provide practical assistance. He had served as shipboard governor during the Mayflower’s voyage.
     Under the pretense of negotiation and sharing a meal, Standish lured some native military leaders into a house and stabbed them. The fur trade, the Pilgrims’ only lucrative source of income, was lost. The native people were sobered to discover the true nature of their new neighbors.
     A conflict broke out between the Pilgrims and the Strangers over the celebration of Christmas, which the Pilgrims did not observe. They probably also did not welcome Shakespeare’s First Folio which saw its first publication in 1623.
     But forget about the good old days and look for Orion. He has just started to make his seasonal appearance in the early morning sky. This constellation with its three prominent stars has been found in prehistoric carvings, and is expected to dominate the winter night skies unchanged for at least another 50,000 years.
     Same stars over us all, no matter what new human conflict we can invent.
     Images to help you navigate the night skies this month can be found at earthsky.org
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