“A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ Pointless, really…….. ‘Do the stars gaze back?’ Now that’s a question.”
Like the previous “night-sky” images I posted a while back, this photograph was taken just before dawn in Monument Valley, with the East Mitten and Merrick’s Butte in the foreground. What struck me about this scene was the visible pillar of light that appears to be projecting from the top of the butte to the so-called “morning star” (Venus). In reality it was light from the sun, still a good distance below the horizon, that created this effect. The view, of course, is to the southeast.
You can also see two other planets in this photograph: Jupiter is the next brightest “star” (below and to the left of Venus) and the reddish dot just above Jupiter is (I think) Mars. What you’re seeing is a conjunction (or near conjunction) of these 3 planets. At certain times during the year these conjunctions bring two or more of the planets in our solar system into close proximity of one another. Well, at least from our perspective here on earth. They only appear to be on top of one another. When that happens, it creates a very, very bright object in the sky. An object that clearly moves with the earth’s rotation.
I bring all this up because of the season. Anyone familiar with Christmas knows the story of the 3 wisemen or magi who supposedly followed a very bright “star” to the birthplace of Christ. A plausible secular explanation of this event is that the star they saw was either a comet or a supernova or, more likely, two or three planets in conjunction in the morning sky. An event that would have looked something like what you see here. Looking at this image one can see that such a planetary conjunction might have appeared to be a guiding light in the sky. Especially to people who were a little less than astronomically enlightened.
Perhaps a sight like this inspired the story of “The Star of Bethlehem”. True or not, it is how such stories are born, embellished, and passed on from one generation to the next. Whether religiously inclined or not, we need stories like this. At some level such stories are the very essence of our existence. They are what connects us across both time and distance. They are the one thing that all humans have in common. Which makes them kind of unique. Take away our stories and you take away our humanity.
“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, and live by love though the stars walk backward.”
E. E. Cummings (“Dive for Dreams”)