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Echoes from the past…


Ok, I’m not a superstitious person, and I don’t for a moment believe in “omens” or “signs”, but every now and then a nice coincidence crops up that makes me smile. And as coincidences go, this one is pretty cool…

As you’ll know from the previous post, we’re holding a special Saturn-watching event at Kendal Castle (seen above, in a painting by the brilliant and talented Stella Coxon) on this coming Friday night, to be part of and support NASA’s “Wave at Saturn” project. If you don’t know what that is, it’s all explained in the previous post but just to recap briefly: on Friday night the CASSINI probe orbiting Saturn will be taking a picture of Earth from behind Saturn, while the ringed planet is eclipsing the Sun, and they want as many people as possible to be “in” the picture by going outside and waving at Saturn while the image is being taken. It’s just a fun idea, nothing serious, not scientifically valuable in any way, just a fun, cool thing to do and be a part of.

Anyway, one of Kendal’s many claims to fame (Wainright, Mint Cake, Arthur Eddington, etc…) is that the father of Catherine Parr, Henry the 8th’s sixth and last wife, was from here, in fact he was Lord of the Manor of Kendal, so she’s kind of a “Famous Daughter” of the town. Although she wasn’t born at (she was born in London) and never lived at Kendal Castle (it was already more than 300 years old, and pretty much a ruin, by the time she was born in 1512) maybe she went up there at some point, on one of her visits to Kendal..? Who knows… But it’s nice to think she did, and I find it hard to believe that she *never* headed up that hill, as I do so often now, on one of her visits back home, to take a look at the ruins of the once proud castle and feel sadness at what it had become…

So, I was wondering earlier today, whilst listening to the Ashes coverage on the radio, where Saturn would have been when Catherine Parr was born in August 1512, and when she got married to the King in July 1543. No particular reason; it doesn’t matter where it was, but I was thinking it would have been nice if Saturn had at least been visible *in* the sky at those times, just to establish a vague, wispy link with history, you know?

So I fired up Starry Night Pro (I say “fired up”; of course, I mean “double clicked the icon and then went away to make a cup of tea and complete the Coast to Coast walk while my ageing PC chugged and groaned and wheezed and whined its way through opening the program”…) ..and…. amazingly… at BOTH those times Saturn would have been not only just visible in the sky, but it would have been in almost exactly the same place in the sky it is now, and will be for our Saturn night!


How come?

Because Saturn’s “year” – the time it takes to orbit the Sun – is just shy of 30 Earth years long. That means it returns to roughly the same part of our night sky every 30 years. And the numbers just work out for these events. Catherine Parr was born in August 1512, at a time when, as the STARRY NIGHT screenshot below shows,  Saturn was shining low in the south west after sunset, just to the upper left of the star Spica…

Aug 1512 CP born

When Catherine Parr married, 30 years later, Saturn had orbited the Sun once and had crawled its way around the sky to return roughly (not exactly) to the same position it had been in when she was born, i.e. low in the south west after sunset, just to the upper left of the star Spica

12 July 1543 wedding to H8

Now fast forward 470 Earth years – which is almost 16 “Saturn years” – to now, to 2013, and on next Friday night, the night of our “Wave at Saturn” event, guess where Saturn will be? Yep, you’re ahead of me…

Wave night

That’s right – low in the south west after sunset, just to the upper left of the star Spica..!

Isn’t that brilliant? How’s that for a fortuitous connection to history?!?

There’s no special significance to this, it’s just mathematics and physics and the passage of time. But it is nice, and I think it will give us a great link to the past for our event, don’t you? There’s no way of knowing if Catherine Parr ever looked at the night sky from the castle, or at all, but still… as we stand there on Friday night, in the deepening twilight, in the shadows of the ruins of the castle I’ve come to love so much, it will be great, and fitting, to be able to link events of almost half a millennia ago with a truly Space Age event.

As the great man said, “I love it when a plan comes together…” 🙂


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