25 August 2014
A friend of mine talked some time ago about the importance of naming, how the pleasure of experiencing a garden, for example, is increased by being able to name the plants. I get that. I enjoy being able to call weeds by their name when I yank them out ("Take that, evil cranesbill! Out you go, knapweed!"), but even better, knowing friendly plants ("There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." - okay, sorry, that's off topic.). Naming something gives you a little bit of ownership over it, or perhaps some kinship with it.
And so last night, what drew me out on the balcony was the Pleiades, das Siebengestirn - the Sevenstars, that clear cluster which in this hemisphere and at our latitude (50°N, if you must know) is not commonly visible earlier in the year just after dark, so it's a bit of a treat to be able to see it. It was almost directly east, about half-way up in the sky. And just over from it was Capella, in Auriga. In July, around 10:00 PM, it appears just over the horizon to the north; it's exceptionally bright, and it twinkles red and blue - really! - so that when I first saw it some years ago I spent quite some time arguing with my brothers-in-law who were visiting about whether it was a star or a satellite. (I can't remember what my side of the argument was, but looking it up soon turned up the facts of the matter - and the name.)
First I put on my glasses last night, then I went for the binoculars and the star chart. And so I became acquainted with Perseus. No relation to Percy Jackson - well, actually, yes relation to Percy Jackson, I believe he's named after the constellation. Or both the constellation and the teen demigod are named after the Greek hero, whose deeds I can't remember. Perseus (the constellation) is really bright, easy to spot. And it pleases me that I now know another name of a star cluster. It makes the wonder of a brilliant night sky that much deeper - and yet more intimate.
Life, the Universe, and Gazing at the Stars. I love them more for knowing their names.