Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9: Northern Cross

On Friday night when we returned home late from dinner, I paused outside the house to admire the clear, star-filled sky. The streetlight that usually floods the front of our house with light is out, so now, when the weather allows, we've actually been able to fully appreciate the stars.

We picked out Jupiter to the southeast over Mount Battie, its steady light distinguishing this bright planet from our brightest stars. And as I looked up over our house, a set of stars called the Northern Cross poised upright over our roof. I pointed it out to my husband, told him our house was blessed. We had just been engaged in a long dinner conversation with friends about (mostly unusual or extreme) religious beliefs and practices. "Is that some sort of story?" he asked, thinking that I was noting a Christian folk belief. "That's my story," I told him. "I just decided that."

The Northern Cross is actually encompassed by a constellation long recognized (for a millenium or so) in the Western world as Cygnus, the Swan. Its brightest star Deneb is at the top of the cross, and is one of three stars that makes up another asterism known as the Summer Triangle, along with Altair (in Aquila, the Eagle) and Vega (in Lyra, the Lyre). Deneb is also considered to be the tail of the Swan, so this bird too is headed south, pointing the way for all those living birds migrating overhead in the cloudless dark.

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