04 October 2008

Starry Plough

Dubhe and Merak are the pointers--the α and ß stars of this famous asterism, known in North America as The Big Dipper. Dubhe is Arabic for "bear," which is appropriate, considering the constellation is Ursa Major, The Great Bear. The bright group of seven within Ursa Major is also known as The Wain (The Wagon). Of course, like all things, there is more to it. One more, in fact. There are EIGHT stars in the group. It goes alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta--that's how astronomers rank the stars by brightness. In the case of The Plough, it is Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar, Alkaid. The penultimate Mizar, properly known as Zeta Ursa Majoris, is coupled with tiny Alcor, thus the eighth star. Resolving the two individuals in the Mizar/Alcor pair with the naked eye is a challenge. Try it with binoculars if you can't make the split unaided. They form the middle of the "handle" portion, where it "bends." Here in the States, number forty-nine--Alaska--uses a stylized version of the seven (along with Polaris, the object of the pointers) for its flag. Irish revolutionaries and socialists have found iconic power in the grouping (without the North Star) as well, using it for their flags and banners. Today we created a Starry Plough on our kitchen wall, an empty white space below the cathedral ceiling that was crying out for some decoration. I spent quite a bit of time with ruler, protractor, calculator and star chart to work out the dimensions. It came out to a little less than four feet across. The North Star--Polaris--sits on the north wall, at a right angle to The Plough. I tilted the whole thing 42º from the horizontal, our approximate north latitude (the California-Oregon boderline). I'm reminded of the old Star Hustler (now Star Gazer) Jack Horkheimer line: "keep looking up!" And of a fine spot in our old stomping grounds, Berkeley, The Starry Plough Pub and Nightclub!

1 comment:

nancyo said...

The new kitchen art sounds terrific! And I think you, too, have much the same enthusiasm as the incomparable Jack Horkheimer!(We should all keep lookin' up -- and maybe we'll see through the 2008 Baseball Blues sludge.)