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Belgian skies, spring, beginning of the evening

From the beginning of time, man has linked the stars to imaginary drawings which are called constellations. There are eighty eight constellations in total which take a year to revolve around the sun. The Earth allows us to see these constellations along with the changing seasons. But we also have the impression that the stars parade in front of our eyes with the passing of the hours. In this case, it’s the movement caused by the rotation of the earth which allows us to see the parade.

Around cities, light pollution is so strong that it’s only possible to see the brightest stars. The Great Bear looks like a frying pan, it’s easy to find because it’s so big and bright. Far from light pollution, it’s possible to see up to 3000 stars with the naked eye. Then it would also be possible to see all the stars of the Great Bear. Above the frying pan is the Little Bear of which the brightest star is the Pole star, in the north. Further on is Cassiopeia, easy to recognise because of its ‘W’ shape.

From the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia and further via the constellations of Taurus and Leo, it’s possible to see a bright band across the heavens. This is the Milky Way which we can see on a dark night far from the light pollution of cities. If we look at the sky from the edge of the Milky Way, where the Earth is, we see either dark black space where only 3000 stars can be found visible to the naked eye, or we can look at the centre of the Milky Way where there are millions of stars, too far away to be distinguished individually but of which the combined light power causes this milky arch in the heavens.

Some constellations are very well-known, like those of the Zodiac. They represent a circular band along which the Sun seems to move as seen from the Earth. Taurus, even though it is a typical winter constellation is still visible in the beginning of the evening during the first half of spring. 

Next in the Zodiac is Gemini which boasts the splendor of Castor and Pollux, the false-twins. Pollux, demi-god because he is the son of Zeus, was immortal. He was devastated by the death of his brother and asked his father to revive Castor. Zeus changed them into constellations, forever immortal.

Zeus’ wife, Hera, for her part, sent a crab to bite Hercules to prevent him from completing his second task. The crab failed and Hera punished it by placing it in the sky without a bright star. West of Cancer, is Leo which is one of the oldest and most well-known constellations. In Babylonian times, the Hebrews and the Persians already saw an animal with a flamboyant mane.

Thereafter we have the constellation of Virgo. This is the second most spread out constellation in the sky. Most traditions associate this constellation with fertility.

 Sometimes, it is possible to see the planets. They pass almost unseen among all the other bright points of the heavenly dome and wander about the constellations of the Zodiac. They are closer than the stars and therefore seem much brighter, like headlights which draw our eye. Furthermore, the stars twinkle while the planets are fixed bright lights. Only the five nearest planets are visible with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. But like the Earth they orbit the Sun. Not only aren’t they always in our field of vision but their position varies within the constellations with the passage of time.

To find out more about the planets, come to our other shows.