Drink Deep the Milky Way
Let’s talk today about one of the chief delights of summer sky-watching; our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Once away from city lights, this luminous band of light becomes a seriously dramatic feature of the night sky. After darkness is firmly established, the Milky Way rises up grandly from the southern horizon and floats effortlessly overhead, splitting the sky in two halves like some sort of cosmic brain, before spilling over onto the northern rim of the sky. This is true every year, of course, but never has there been such a forceful reason to acquaint one’s self with the Milky Way as there is this summer. Why? Because we now have the most splendid view possible of the Galactic Center, the very spot upon which the much-hailed December 2012 alignment hinges. But by then, it won’t be as easy to see.
One dependable principle of sky-watching is that it’s easiest to view areas of the sky where the Sun is not. Straddling the summer solstice, the Sun travels through the zodiac signs Gemini and Cancer. The opposite signs are Sagittarius and Capricorn—the very location of the Galactic Center, as we shall see! These signs will rise when the Sun sets and we can view the attendant constellations of the Scorpion and The Archer all night long. They carry the Milky Way along with them, and actually point to the Galactic Center; a highly dense segment of the Milky Way, riveting in its size and majesty. It is the home base of our very galaxy, long revered by the ancients as the pathway of souls and creative source of all life.
An Inside View
The Milky Way is the inside view of our own galaxy, which is made up of billions of stars most of which are too remote to see. It holds 9/10 of all visible stars, but covers only 1/10 of visible heavens. For most of history, humans didn’t know the true nature of the Milky Way. There were guesses, myths and plenty of theories, but the fact that it is comprised of stars was not positively confirmed until 1610 when Galileo peered into the heavens with his new telescope.
The universe, it turns out, is packed with galaxies. Ours is a garden-variety sort, flat and disc-shaped, not unlike two enormous Frisbees with their edges glued together. It’s skinny at the edges and fatter in the middle. The Galactic Center is the hub of this cosmic activity, where stars are born hot, live fast and die young. It’s rather like a gritty urban downtown neighborhood where everything is denser, faster and more crowded. This segment of the Milky Way, aside from being visually arresting, is constantly emitting streams of intense energy impulses, an ancient notion substantiated by modern science. From its center, graceful spiral arms float outwards, gradually spinning into oblivion at the Galactic Edge. Our solar system is located about 2/3 out from the center in one the arms, a little gated community in the suburbs of the galaxy.
Since we earthlings can see the Milky Way all around us, like a ring or belt surrounding the earth, we know that we are in the middle of it. In some areas of the belt the stars are much brighter, and in other areas they are dim. Towards the constellations of the Scorpion and the Archer, the Milky Way is thick and dense, bulging at the seams, indicating the packed Galactic Center. There are far fewer stars in the opposite direction, toward the constellation of Orion and The Bull, because that direction looks away from the center toward the Galactic Edge and into trans-galactic space.
Fortunately, there are a number of stars that mark the Milky Way, and it’s worth a small side-trip to get to know them:
- The Summer Triangle: This set of 3 stars is an excellent marker for the Milky Way, particularly during the summer months. The stars Deneb, Altair and Vega make up the trio; Deneb (the word means “tail” in Arabic) is the tail of Cygnus the Swan, who swims headlong into the Milky Way. This constellation is also sometimes called the Northern Cross.
- Cassiopeia: This unique W-shaped constellation in the northern sky also marks the Milky Way.
- Orion and the Pleiades: The Milky Way flows through the Belt of Orion and the ancient constellation of the Seven Sisters.
- The Southern Cross: Most of us in the northern hemisphere will not have the opportunity to view this constellation (ed. note: it, along with the Milky Way as bright as few of us have ever witnessed it, can beseen in the gorgeous night-sky video, Under the Namibian Sky).
- The Scorpion and the Archer: Here is where the Galactic Center intersects with the constellations in a unique and dramatic sky zone, where a stinger, an arrow and a boot all pointed precisely to the center of our galaxy thousands of years before science confirmed it!
Because the Milky Way belt is tilted to the path of the Sun, it has a very peculiar motion through the sky. It seems to “roll and tumble in slow motion” [i] during the night. Check out these images from E.C. Krupp, author of the wonderful book Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets (Amazon affiliate link). He shows the dramatic difference in appearance the Milky Way can make in just a few hours. Note how the Milky Way can, at different points, both circle the horizon and bisect the sky [ii].
There are only two constellations that contain classical directional indicators such as stingers or arrows. These are next-door neighbors the Scorpion and the Archer. Look at the diagram and see how the Scorpion’s stinger and the Archer’s arrow point to the same place—the Galactic Center. What’s more, these are the only two constellations located south of the ecliptic, as if the authors of the zodiac wanted to call our attention to this area. As if that’s not enough, the foot of Ophiuchus (that huge constellation that barely intercepts the ecliptic and is sometimes linked to a nonexistent thirteenth sign) also stands squarely on the Galactic Center, yet another cosmic signpost.
The Galactic Center spans many degrees on the tropical zodiac. If that seems like a lot of space for a “center” to occupy, it’s preferable to regard it as a zone, not a point. Look at this diagram from Michael Erlewine’s 1977 book Astrophysical Directions updated version available,The Astrology Of Space: Astrophysical Directions [iii].
In this image, we can see that the bulge of the Milky Way as it crosses the ecliptic covers well in excess of 30 degrees, or one whole sign plus part of another. Currently, the tropical zodiac area covered by the Galactic Center starts about 12 degrees Sagittarius and extends well into tropical Capricorn. This means that when the Sun enters Capricorn, it will conjoin, from our perspective, the Galactic Center. It is this union of the creative and restorative force of the solstice Sun with the very birthplace of our galaxy which suggests the importance of the event and symbolizes its potential meaning. As we’ll soon learn, this is a limited-time opportunity.
What will happen, then, on the infamous “December 20, 2012,” the latest projection of mass fear and anxiety? Far from being a day of mass destruction, as many suggest, it is a moment of hope and contains the seed for truly quantum evolution. The Sun will rise into the arms of the galaxy in what I call the Galactic Embrace. Next month, I’ll pull all this together with diagrams that will help you visualize and understand the relatively straightforward mechanics of this magnificent, rare and temporary alignment. I’ll also discuss the important part played by those who carry the astrological significator for Light Workers; anyone whose chart is affected by the degrees now covered by the Galactic Center. Stay tuned and in the meantime, be here now! Blessings.
Linea Van Horn offers fundamental, intermediate and advanced astrology classes locally in the SF Bay Area, and online. Learn more here.