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Storyteller’s Night Sky on IPR~Earth moves out, Mars leans in

July 2, 2018

Venus in the evening sky this week, as Earth reaches its aphelion (furthest distance from Sun), and Mars comes to perihelion (closest approach to Sun). Image from Sky and Telescope.

This week the Earth arrives at the place in its orbital path that is furthest away from the Sun. This is called its “aphelion” and it will happen on Friday, July 6, even though it seems like a complete contradiction that Earth is furthest away from the Sun during the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer ~ but so it is.

While we’re at aphelion, the planet Mars is coming to the opposite place in its orbit, which brings it will be closest to the Sun. This is called its “perihelion” and it will happen later this month. A planet’s perihelion always happens when it is in its apparent retrograde loop, which also occurs when it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.

So with Earth furthest away from the Sun and Mars closest in, what happens is that Earth and Mars are relatively close together ~ almost as close as they can ever be. The average distance between Earth and Mars is 140 million miles, though this distance is constantly changing given their respective orbits. Near the end of July 2018, Mars will be a mere 35.8 million miles away from Earth (which is closer than Venus, at an average distance of 162 million miles).

So here we have Earth and Mars on one side of the zodiac of stars, with Earth far away from Sun, and Mars moving as close in as it can get. Then we look in the opposite direction where we find the Sun in company with Venus, goddess of love and beauty, and the beloved of Mars.

What if we imagined that during such a configuration of planets, we on Earth are actually standing in the path of longing between these ancient celestial lovers Mars and Venus. And what’s more, because we’re closest to Mars this month, it seems that our companion in the relationship is the warrior, not the goddess, so how might we bear the message of his unmet desire for his beloved to Venus across the heavens?

I like to think the best thing is poetry in the starlight! And to help us out, here’s a fragment of a poem the 16th century poet and dramatist Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love”:

Come live with me and be my love, 
And we will all the pleasures prove, 
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields, 
Woods, or steepy mountain yields. 
And we will sit upon the Rocks, 
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks, 
By shallow Rivers to whose falls 
Melodious birds sing Madrigals. 
And I will make thee beds of Roses 
And a thousand fragrant posies, 
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle 
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle; 
A gown made of the finest wool 
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull; 
Fair lined slippers for the cold, 
With buckles of the purest gold; 
A belt of straw and Ivy buds, 
With Coral clasps and Amber studs: 
And if these pleasures may thee move, 
Come live with me, and be my love. 
The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing 
For thy delight each May-morning: 
If these delights thy mind may move, 
Then live with me, and be my love.
Follow this link for the audio: Storyteller’s Night Sky on IPR

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July 2, 2018
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