“Star Spangled Kyrangle: Winter Star Lore”

Community event with the Astrophyics Group at the University of Exeter
Digby, Exeter
from 6:30pm GMT on 13 November 2018

The two events of the Star Spangled Kyrangle were opportunities to bring people together, and encourage them to be attentive to their place, surroundings and nature. The night sky holds many myths and stories in its depths. It has spoken to humanity since our earliest times. Over millennia we have probed the heavens, seeking wisdom and weaving patterns. Generations of navigators have used the kindly guidance of the stars to find their way on land and sea. The Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, and many other ancient civilisations have sought to explain the movements of the planets and enigmatic wandering comets. Still today, scientists are fascinated and humbled by the mysteries of space. We too can step outside and look up, and gaze at the beauty of the night sky, and wonder.

…assuming the weather is kind. Never work with children, animals, or weather! On the first Star Spangled Kyrangle in August, it was indeed kind. The November event was a bit more problematic. The Monday brought hail and gusting winds, but thankfully Tuesday was finer, and we took the opportunity.

It was still a little cloudy. Although there were plenty of gaps in the lower cloud and we could see the skies, there was also a thin layer of high cloud that obscured all but the brightest heavenly bodies.

Mars was bright and easy to pick out. We had a telescope trained on its disc much of the evening. We could also see the Summer Triangle, a pattern of three stars of similar brightness in three different constellations, that has been used in recent centuries for navigation: Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila.

Each different culture finds its own patterns in the sky. These constellations are what we see in the west, but other cultures see other constellations. And we can find our own patterns too. Claire brought some prints of the negative sky, and Royal Astronomical Society pencils, so we could make our own constellations.

Those who came to watch the Perseids shooting stars will know that these are meteoroids when floating through space, meteors when they are in the atmosphere and meteorites when they hit the ground. Dr Claire Davies, researcher in Exeter University’s Astrophysics Group, brought the University’s tiny billion year old meteorite, and another larger 45,000 years old one that we could hold. Meteorites are heavy. I took my laptop showing my animation of NASA meteorite landing data that show just how many meteorites there have been, and some images from Astrophysics showing what they look like under an electron microscope.

And then there was mulled apple juice (sadly not from Isaac Newton’s orchard), Milky Ways (of course), a portable planetarium, holographic postcards, and a 3D print of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the target of the Rosetta probe and Philae lander. Comets are odd.

Another big thank you to our stars Dr Claire and colleagues.

Nature bonus: A fox

Other than on your own doorstep, where else can you watch stars?

The Norman Lockyer Observatory in Sidmouth is very active. Dartmoor Skies runs events using a mini mobile observatory (it was partly inspired by looking for shooting stars during the Perseid meteor shower).

And Exeter has caught the star-spangled bug. Watch out for more events in Belmont and Polsloe Parks over the coming months.

For anyone who is thinking of organising a similar event, you can find more specific information on the Working with Gold website.

Keep looking up!!

Acknowledgements

Exeter UniversityDr Claire Davies and her colleagues from the University of Exeter Astrophysics department, of course!

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