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Time-Lapse Video of the Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and a Crescent Moon in Washington, DC
|| 12/2/2008 || 3:26 pm || Comments Off on Time-Lapse Video of the Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and a Crescent Moon in Washington, DC || ||

Before I took the photographs last night I first recorded this timelapse video. The video consists of hundreds of frames taken exactly two seconds apart using my Canon SD750 digital camera mounted on my tripod. I started recording the video around dusk before I could see Jupiter through the twilight and let it record until the planets were out of frame. The music is Transit of Venus by John Phillip Sousa (1893) and performed by the Virginia Grand Military Band (2003). I’ve used this music before when filming other planets and it’s pretty much become my de-facto music for all my astronomy related videos.


Related Venus Entries:

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A New & Somewhat Accurate Map of the Tropic of Gemini and the Tropic of Sagittarius
|| 9/4/2008 || 7:11 pm || Comments Off on A New & Somewhat Accurate Map of the Tropic of Gemini and the Tropic of Sagittarius || ||


For the last month I’ve been working on a slightly strange map above. It’s based on Johannes van Loon’s “Scenographia systematis mvndani Ptolemaici” (1660), which includes an “Axis Zodiaci” that shows the signs of Gemini and Sagittarius being slightly more illuminated than Cancer & Capricorn (see below). This shading possibly indicates that the author was aware of natural movement of the earth since the time of Ptolemy (~125 A.D.).

A new & somewhat accurate map of the Tropic of Sagittarius and the Tropic of Gemini was created using two maps of the Tropics from Wikipedia. I added the glyphs of the Zodiac over the meridians, but unlike the antique map below, I moved the signs backwards. The word “tropic” itself comes from the Greek tropos, meaning turn, referring to the fact that the sun appears to “turn back” at the solstices. I have read that in 1989 the Tropic of Gemini moved into the constellation of Taurus, which technically means it should be the “Tropic of Taurus,” but to keep the circle of animals in exact opposition, I kept the tropic in Gemini, hence “somewhat accurate.”

Close-up detail of A New & Somewhat Accurate Map of the Tropic of Gemini and the Tropic of Sagittarius

For hundreds of years cartographers have included the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer on nearly all globes and world maps. Yet with the natural movement of the earth through space & time, the solstices are not located in the constellations of Capricorn or Cancer anymore. So why do cartographers continue to label the maps & globes using this incorrect information? Does cartographic tradition trump astronomical observation? Should contemporary maps be changed to reflect the passage of time? Are there any antique maps that place the Tropics in any other constellations? Leave your comments below.

Johannes van Loon’s “Scenographia systematis mvndani Ptolemaici” (1660)



Postscript: I believe I was incorrect in my analysis above. I failed to take into account the sideral.


Related Antique Entries:

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Happy Nowruz !!
|| 3/20/2008 || 3:25 pm || Comments Off on Happy Nowruz !! || ||

Last night I celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year, with some of my close friends for the second year in a row. Like the ancient peoples written in our history books, I am a fan of all celebrations that bring people together, and Nowruz has been bringing people together for over 15,000 years– making it one of mankind’s oldest celebrations.

The previous year I was given the sabzeh, or green wheat sprouts in a small dish, which represents rebirth. This year I saw my first traditional Haft-Seen display (pictured). Each element in the display has a specific meaning for the next year.

Via Wikipedia, some of the Haft-Seen items are:


* sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
* samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence
* senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love
* sÄ«r – garlic – symbolizing medicine
* sÄ«b – apples – symbolizing beauty and health
* somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
* serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience

Other items on the table may include:

* Sonbol – Hyacinth (flower)
* Sekkeh – Coins – representative of wealth
* traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
* dried nuts, berries and raisins (Aajeel)
* lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
* a mirror (symbolizing cleanness and honesty)
* decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family (fertility)
* a bowl of water with goldfish (life within life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving)
* a bowl of water with an orange in it (the earth floating in space)
* rosewater, believed to have magical cleansing powers
* the national colours, for a patriotic touch
* a holy book (e.g., the Qur’an, Avesta, Bible, Torah, or Kitáb-i-Aqdas) and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnama or the Divan of Hafez)

We stayed up to 1:48am to celebrate start of year 1387 (Anno Persico) and shortly after the new day began I poured rose water on my hands, rubbed it on my face, and looked into a small mirror. I am told its a ceremonial way of putting the year behind you— and what a great year 1386 was for me! I expect 1387 to be filled with intrigue, excitement, and fun.


I’d like to take a brief moment to expound on how amazing the Persian Calendar is. Technically, it is one of the few astronomical solar calendars that are still used today. Interestingly, it is more precise than the Gregorian calendars that have been in used in Europe (and America) since 1582. Each month is not based on the arbitrary division of months as we have today, rather each month was determined by the transit of the sun into the corresponding zodiac region.

By 1079 (C.E.), the Jalali Calendar, a precursor to the modern Persian Calendar, had the solar year calculated to seven decimal places (365.2421986) and in today’s Gregorian Calendar the days in a year is calculated to only six decimal places (365.242190). Also, since the astronomical observations and predictions used in Jalali Calendar were based on a yearly review of the astronomical ephemeris, the calendar never required a leap years nor were seasons ever off by more than a day. All in all, I am very impressed with their calendar and how its changed over the years to include other cultural influences.

Last year’s research on the zodiac found in Battista Agnese’s portolan from 1544 shows that even as far back as 400+ years ago New Years was celebrated in the spring. I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at this zodiac and found one important indicator of New Years.

There is only one point on the double concentric circle where there is a line that bisects both the astrological calendar and the Gregorian calendar. This line falls around March 10th (see below), however I have been unable to find out why that specific date was chosen for this specific calendar. I am still trying to reconcile this anomaly, but hope to have a definitive answer sometime in the not-so-distant future.



Seen in the night sky last week
|| 12/1/2007 || 11:05 pm || Comments Off on Seen in the night sky last week || ||

Two weeks ago I finished reading “Fated Sky” by Benson Bobrick. The book is a historical overview of prominent astrologers thoughout history like Ptolemy, Dee, Brahe, and Sibley (to name but a few). I am quite happy I read it. It’s given me a new appreciation for the ancient art of astrology. It’s also helped to support my recent interest in the night sky.

This last week was quite a busy, productive, and exciting week. Some emotional loss, some financial gain, travel to a new place, research of the old and new and, well, quite a lot of fun.

This week also coincided with the viewing of two planets for the first time. With both my naked eye and using a telescope, I gazed upon Mars & Saturn for the first time.

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Nikolas Schiller is a second-class American citizen living in America's last colony, Washington, DC. This blog is my on-line repository of what I have created or found on-line since May of 2004. If you have any questions or comments, please contact:

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  • thank you,
    come again!