Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jan 21st - Jan 27th, 2005

Dragon's Gold

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      This gnome has been hold up in the bowels of the star factory working night and day in a relentless pursuit against time while hammering out Dragon's gold. Since coming back to Boulder, I have laid up a horde of food in a concrete, windowless upper room of Fiske Planetarium working on a show featuring images of the wisdom of the dragon, the circumpolar constellation from approximately 7,000 BC down to about 1,000 AD, when Polaris slowly began to come into focus as our new pole star.

      Everyone knows what the North and South Poles are. They're places of extreme cold in the Arctic and Antarctic respectively. The 'pole' which runs through these two points is the axis around which the world turns. This image is often depicted as an Earth with a column, tree, steak, or spear running through its middle, like an Earth shish-ka-bob. The angle of this axis is not ninety degrees to the ecliptic (the path of the Sun), although it is ninety degrees to the Earth's equator, the middle of our planet. Because of the rotational speed of the planet as it turns, there is actually a slight bulge at the equator, as if Mother Earth were on a diet with a few too many carbs. Because the polar axis is inclined at an angle of 23 and a half degrees, it looks as though our planet is slightly tipped when we view it against the plane of our solar system. Dragon's Gold and Seasons

      There are times when the northern hemisphere is more inclined towards the Sun, and times when the reverse is true. This is what authors our seasons, and not how close we are to the Sun. When the northern hemisphere is tipped towards the Sun, we experience summer; away from the Sun, winter. In what may seem to be counter intuitive, we are actually farther from the Sun in summer, and closer in winter. In the southern hemisphere, this trend is reversed. They are actually closer to the Sun in their summer (our wintertime), and further away in the winter. This would lead one to expect that their seasons are more extreme than ours, but, since there is also so much less land mass in the southern hemisphere, the cooling provided by the oceans is a counter balance to these temperature extremes. There's more than one way to warm a planet. The axis which runs through the poles is often extended into space, which marks the North and South Celestial Poles. If you were to go to the North Pole and look straight overhead, this would seem to be where all of the stars of creation turn. Right now, we happen to be in a place in time when there is a star marker which helps us to identify this point, and that, of course, is Polaris, the Pole Star (which is what the name means).

Precessional Pole       Because of precessional motion, our pole, this huge imaginary shaft which runs through the planet, is actually tracing out a circle in the northern and southern skies. We think about the South Celestial Pole less, simply because we can't see it unless one travels south of the equator. Five thousand years ago, there was another pole star, and that was the heart of the Dragon. The Arabs named the entire constellation Thuban after this legendary pole star.

      Many myths around the globe tell stories of the great winged serpent which flies over head, sometimes seen hiding in the clouds, sometimes making himself invisible, but one for whom great fame and glory has been promised from time immemorial.

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