||From the website
1 for "Star Gazer," a television series
shown on the United States' American Public Broadasting System comes this
excerpt from their 994th show, aired from December 23 to December 29th of
1996. The show's host, Jack Horkheimer, is quoted as saying this in the
...I'd like to
retell a story about a fascinating cosmic coincidence I discovered back in
December of '87, a story many viewers ask me to retell year after year.
It all happened by accident as I was searching for something unusual for
my Christmas week show and strangely it all began, not with a constellation
of winter, but with a constellation of summer, Cygnus the swan, a star pattern
which rises in the east just after sunset in July. I think Cygnus has always
enchanted me because it looks so much like its name, a graceful swan, its
tail marked by one bright star, its beak by another, a star for the tip of
the left wing and a star for the tip of the right wing; stars which, if we
draw lines between them, represent a swan with outstretched wings. In my
youth I always loved to watch Cygnus rise in the east on summer evenings
and climb higher and higher until at midnight he appeared with wings outstretched
across the very roof of heaven. Then after midnight he would silently descend,
gliding downward to the western horizon.
Now one thing that always fascinated me about Cygnus was that as he approached
the western horizon he seemed to change his shape from a swan into a great
cross, a star pattern early Christians called the Northern Cross [Ed. it
is still known as such]. It was also interesting to me that every year during
Christmas week, around 8 p.m. or so that this cross stands almost upright
on the northwestern horizon.
And in December of '87 as I was researching my Christmas show the little
obscure star cluster called the "Bee Hive" caught my attention and jogged
an old memory, for I remembered that the Bee Hive's real name is 'Praesepe'
which is Latin for 'The Manger'.
So I said to myself, "Wouldn't it be a nice coincidence if at Christmas time
we could see both the Cross and the Manger at the same time?"
Well, just for fun I picked up my star wheel and dialed in December 25th,
8 p.m. and noticed something which gave me a pleasant start . . . for indeed,
there on the wheel at 8 p.m. on the 25th of December was not only the Northern
Cross standing upright on the western horizon, just about to set, but directly
opposite on the eastern horizon was Praesepe, the Manger, just rising.
And they will always be there opposite each other in the heavens every year,
every Christmas of our lives. How poetic. Indeed, in all my years as a star
gazer I had never heard or read of this lovely coincidence. So, as you gaze
up at the night sky this Christmas week at the setting Cross and the rising
Manger, may the heavens themselves remind you of a wish that should know
no religious boundaries and that is simply: Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward
Men . . . a hope for all mankind of all beliefs if we remind each other to
Keep Looking Up!
(typical) misquoting of the verse that should read "peace on earth to men
of good will," I think this is a beautiful thing!
Praesepe (Messier: M44) is a star cluster right in the center of the
not-so-very-bright constellation of Cancer, and to the naked eye, it looks
like a nebula. The two nearby bright stars, gamma and delta CAN (or 4 and
5 CAN), are, quite interestingly, called "The Asses." To find Praesepe, look
toward the East. Follow an imaginary line from Spica Virginis under Regulus
in Leo, and about 22° beyond it will touch Praesepe. Praesepe, by the
way, was often used to predict the weather: if it was very hard to see, then
rain is said to be imminent.
Cygnus, the "Northern
Cross," is best seen in the summer sky, but as the astronomer above noted,
it will appear especially Cross-shaped on the Western horizon today...