This is a really great opportunity to bemoan our 21st century obsession with looking down at our smartphones rather than looking up and out at our world but I’m not going to do that, mostly because smartphones have Instagram and twitter and cats on pianos and I’m just not sure the sky can actually compete with that.
Let’s give the universe the benefit of the doubt, though and read on for 11 stellar words about the universe that’ll make you look up to the stars.
Divided into twelve equal areas, the Zodiac contains all of the star signs, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces, named after the constellations that once lay in it.
The less romantically-named polar mesospheric clouds are visible in the upper atmosphere in deep twilight and noctilucent clouds are a hangover from this phenomenon. Noctilucent means ‘night shining’ in Latin.
Ceres is thought to be the smallest dwarf planet in the solar system and is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture.
‘Ecliptic’ also refers to an equivalent great circle on the terrestrial globe that passes through the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Back in the stars, though the great circle on the celestial sphere is inclined at 23.45° to the celestial equator. Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about?
Another celestial body named after a Roman goddess, Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, Vesta has a diameter of about 530km.
Poor Pluto, discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh and downgraded in 2006 to a dwarf planet.
Cassiopeia is one of the most conspicuous constellations in the skies. Shaped like a W and located near the Pole Star, Cassiopeia has been identified as the remnant of a supernova. Cassiopeia got her name from Greek myth where she is the wife of King Cepheus and after giving birth to her daughter Andromeda is changed into a constellation.
Apogee is also often used in a more general sense to refer to the highest point of something.
Another constellation that can be easily spotted, the Ursa Major is visible north of latitude of 40° and is also known as the ‘Great Bear’. The seven brightest stars at its center are known as ‘the Plough’.
Zenith has a few other meanings too. The Zenith is the highest point reached in the heavens by a celestial body, the culminating point of the time at which something is most powerful or successful, ie, ‘the zenith of her career’.
Everybody’s heard of the Aurora Borealis, right? The bands of light that can be seen in an aurora are usually green, yellow or red in colour and are caused by charged particles from the sun, trapped in the earth’s magnetic field and reacting with air molecules.