Orion, the Bear and the Pleiades (Job 38)

I have an old telescope, through which I’ve spent many hours observing and photographing the sky. An old blog of mine, Catching the Sky, has many of my photos and observations.

I’ve been looking through my photos and journals in recent days, partly inspired by Tom McLeish’s book, Faith and Wisdom in Science. His book is in part a meditation on the Book of Job from the perspective of a scientist. The questions that God famously poses to Job from the whirlwind are largely about natural phenomena, some of them astronomical.

Can you tie the bands of the Pleiades,
or loose Orion’s reins?

Can you bring constellations out in their season,
lead the Great Bear and her cubs?

Job 38:31-32 (Alter)

The Great Bear is the Ursa Major constellation; it contains the Big Dipper. In the summer of 2020, comet Neowise passed close to the Earth (as I wrote about in the first post of this current blog), and for a while it appeared just below the Big Dipper.

This diagram from July 2020 shows where Neowise would appear.

I managed one clear photo that showed both the Dipper and the comet:

July 20, 2020 – Comet Neowise below the Big Dipper

My best shot of Neowise was through my (small) telescope, when the comet was about 117 million kilometers distant (73 million miles):

July 15, 2020 – Neowise

One night after the comet was gone, I pointed my scope at the Moon. I just have to say, it’s incredible what you can do these days with cellphone photography, not to mention a 16-year-old telescope:

August 26, 2020 – Apenninus mountain range visible at center right

Back in 2006, the Moon eclipsed the Pleiades, and I managed to photograph some of the event through poor weather.

I got this shot of Alcyone, the brightest of the Pleiades stars:

Alcyone emerging from behind the Moon (April 1, 2006)

McLeish’s book is giving me a lot to think about, because he reads the Book of Job as an implicit invitation from God to realize the limitations of our knowledge — a humility that’s necessary both in faith and science — but also to cease to operate from ignorance, and to increase our wisdom about the world, as part of a larger call to mend “our currently broken relationship with creation” (p. 222). He sees the Biblical heritage as part the search by our curious species for such wisdom and reconciliation. This resonates with me because in many ways I’ve been desiring and seeking out such a perspective myself.

That is an ongoing reflection, without an end-point. For now, I know that I have more to see, next time I look through my telescope.

Some links that may be of interest:

Faith and Wisdom in Coronavirus Science, one of many posts by McLeish about science and the Book of Job.

Comet Neowise

The Pleiades


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