Liberal Arts Blog — Syzygy (Alignment of Celestial Bodies) — Now! (Orion, Full Moon, Jupiter, Venus)
Liberal Arts Blog — Friday is the Joy of Art, Architecture, Design, Film, and All Things Visual Day
Today’s Topic: Syzygy (Alignment of Celestial Bodies) — Now! (Orion, Full Moon, Jupiter, Venus)
The night sky is magic time! If it’s not cloudy, don’t miss it! Ever! A troupe of actors (stars, planets, the moon, comets) traipse across the stage of the great dome in their glistening costumes for your enjoyment, wonder, and delectation. Are you too busy to spare a few nanoseconds for a moment of delight? But the next few nights might be especially wonderful because of the coincidence of a full moon, Orion high in the southern sky, and Jupiter and Venus in the West soon after sunset. That is if clouds don’t get in the way as they are wont to do at often the most inconvenient times. But the syzygy of Orion, Jupiter, Venus, and Moon will persist for the month although the shape of the moon will obviously change as it shrinks from full on Feb 5th to nothingness on February 20th only to become half again only one week later on the 27th. If there is too much light pollution in your neighborhood, well come out to Concord! (Orion is clearly visible from Harvard Yard). Any tips on best viewing spots in the Boston area or any other city where you happen to be is much appreciated. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
SYZYGY — my favorite word in the entire English dictionary! What’s yours? What’s the coolest alignment you have ever seen? For me it was five planets while I was on Nantucket a few years ago. Be on the lookout.
1. I discovered “syzygy” one morning about 10 years ago as I was doing my ritual of looking through 10 pages of the dictionary per day in search of cool words.
2. When I finished the dictionary, there was one clear winner: syzygy.
3. This morning I found a Wikipedia page (first link below) giving an extensive list of uses of the word in the sciences (astronomy, mathematics, biology), film, television, video games, literature, philosophy, and music.
NB: But in 10 years I have not encountered a human (Harvard student or otherwise) who was familiar with the term when I asked. In finance this is called a glaring market inefficiency. You can help with the arbitrage. Text everyone you love.
JUPITER AND VENUS IN THE WESTERN SKY RIGHT AFTER SUNSET IN THE WESTERN SKY
1. “Venus is the brightest of the visible planets. And, at the beginning of February, it appears low in the west shortly after sunset. Meanwhile, Jupiter — 2nd-brightest planet — shines above Venus.”
2. “As the month proceeds, Jupiter will drop lower, while Venus will climb higher.”
3. “By February’s end, these 2 bright worlds will be very close to each other. Spectacular! They’ll appear closest on the evening of March 1, 2023.”
NB: “Don’t miss them near the waxing crescent moon on February 21 and 22.” Seriously, put this on the calendar. Full moons are super cool. But the crescent is the coolest phase of all — one guy’s opinion, obviously. What’s yours?
THE MAGIC MOON — ONLY ONE WEEK FROM HALF TO FULL, ONLY ONE WEEK FROM HALF TO NOTHINGNESS
1. For 12 years I have asked Harvard math and physics majors, friends and family the following question: imagine you look up and see a half moon, how long before the next full moon?
2. It took me 7 years to get a native-born Harvard math or physics major to answer this correctly — giving them up to 10 minutes to figure it out. The consensus was overwhelming: 2 weeks. The second most popular reply: 6 weeks. The higher the IQ the higher the wrong answer. This is a perfect case study in Daniel Kahneman’s distinction between thinking fast and thinking slow. The higher the IQ the faster this pattern of thought: half moon, half cycle, done.
3. Mark — every Romanian-born Harvard math and physics major answered correctly within 10 seconds. What is this relatively poor eastern European country doing right that the rest of humanity is doing so wrong?
NB: Do yourself, your family, and friends a favor and show the moon a little more respect. The basic unit of respect is time.
FOOTNOTE — Pity the residents of these cities — the cloudiest in the USA
1. Anchorage — 239 days per year.
2. Seattle — 226 days per year
3. Portland — 222 days per year
NB: Life is not fair! Nature is not fair! To arms! Remember: Gratitude is not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others. What is there to be more grateful for than the splendor or the night sky? Paying more attention to it might be considered a corollary of the First Commandment of every great religion that has ever flourished on this beautiful planet. My formulation of that commandment: waking up in the morning with a big “Thank You!”
EarthSky | Visible planets and night sky February 2023
The 10 Cloudiest Cities in the U.S., Ranked
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
“In my walks, every man I meet is in some way my superior and in that I can learn of him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED THEMATICALLY ARE AVAILABLE HERE:
PDF with headlines — Google Drive
#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).
#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20
Please share the coolest thing you learned recently or ever related to art, sculpture, design, architecture, film, or anything visual.
This is your chance to make some one else’s day. And to cement in your own memory something cool or important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that is close to your heart.