Oct 14 2013

Oxford X International Symposium planned for July 2014

The tenth Oxford International Symposium on Archaeoastronomy for academics working in the field of cultural astronomy will take place in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2014.

For more information and updates, please visit the ISAAC web site.

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Sep 12 2013

Event: Vatican Astronomer to speak in Edinburgh

Wish I could be at this lecture by Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ of the Vatican Observatory. If any of my readers attend and feel inspired to describe the event, please feel free to do so here. The lecture takes place at the Lauriston Jesuit Centre, Lauriston Street, Edinburgh EH3 9DJ at 7.30pm on Saturday 14 September.


Jul 20 2009

Upcoming solar eclipse (July 22, 2009) — of science and superstition

Solar and lunar eclipses have captured both the popular and religious imagination through the millennia. Eclipse records — and myths inspired by eclipses — date back to the earliest historical epochs. These include a multitude of cuneiform tablet eclipse calculations from Mesopotamia, where total solar eclipses served not merely as awe-inspiring events, but as vital religious omens as well.

Today, eclipses are well understood from a scientific standpoint. However, folk traditions surrounding eclipses remain a part of many cultures around the world, as the following articles in the Globe and Mail (Canada) and The New York times attest. In India, for example, one belief is that pregnant women should remain indoors during an eclipse, so as to avoid any harmful effects upon the fetus.

This week’s solar eclipse will begin on July 22nd at 00:51:17 (Universal Time) off the Indian coast, and is notable due to its extremely long maximum totality period of 6 minutes and 39 seconds. That won’t happen again for nearly 150 years.

Those interested in following the eclipse path may be interested in the following sites:




May 28 2009

Conference announcement: ‘Astronomy and civilisation’ (Budapest)

Category: Announcements,Events,History of Astronomyalobel @ 7:52 pm

This upcoming conference on Astronomy and Civilisation is part of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy series of events. It will be held August 10th-13th in Budapest, Hungary. The conference has as its goal the exploration of the connections that exist between the natural sciences, astronomy, and civilization — interdisciplinarity at its best.

The conference will include sessions on various topics spanning areas as diverse as physics, human cognition, art, astronomy, and religion. For those who wish to submit a paper for consideration, the call is open until May 30th, 2009.

More information may be found here.

[Edited to add that the early registration deadline, including the call for abstracts, has been changed to June 15, 2009, and the deadline for registration is now July 1, 2009. Thank you to Attila Grandpierre for this information.]

Apr 10 2009

Fantastic Fridays: Birkat Ha-Hammah (a view from the bonfire)

Category: Events,Fantastic Fridays,Judaismalobel @ 5:27 pm


This is my personal admission: I smell like charred bonfire. But I do have a good reason.

On Wednesday, I woke up early to make it to a local Birkat Ha-Hammah ceremony. It was cloudy and rather cold out, so I wasn’t sure that it was going to be possible to bless the sun. It simply wasn’t visible. My husband and daughter were still sleeping, so I headed out quietly. There had been a snowfall the night before, and I found it rather incongruous to be brushing snow off of the car immediately before heading off to bless the sun and burn leavening (hametz) for Passover.

When I arrived at the first location (there were at least two ceremonies being held nearby) nobody was there, and the sun was still covered with clouds. I looked in the general direction of the east and began to recite the blessing on the sun anyway. But a few words into the blessing, the clouds parted, and I could clearly see the solar disk (which I carefully kept in my peripheral vision).

I then drove to another ceremony site, which was the empty field of a synagogue that is currently under construction. A few women and families were just leaving, so there were only five or six men and me in attendance. The bonfire was in a large rectangular metal bin, and was being stoked by volunteers, with wooden planks being added periodically. People would come by, throw pieces of bread, pita, and even a box filled with croissants into the fire, and recite the Aramaic declaration of nullification of hametz. In turn, I also threw in the pieces of bread and pita that I’d brought with me and recited the declaration on behalf of myself and my family.

Most of the celebrants burned their leavened products and then said the blessing on the sun. I chatted with one of them, telling him that the sun had come out, however briefly, during the blessing. To this, he replied, “Yes, the miracle happened here too!” I smiled, and we wished each other a happy Passover.

After thanking the volunteers, I headed off to do some more Passover shopping. I was still thinking about the blessing of the sun. Miracle? Perhaps not the fact of the emergence of the sun itself, but our very relationship to it on earth is certainly a powerful one (whether one subscribes to the rare earth hypothesis or no). Mostly, I think of such moments as numinous, as per Rudolf Otto (Das Heilige). Whether or not one attributes this feeling of awe to a religious force, it is difficult to deny that the sun, moon, stars, planets and other heavenly bodies hold a certain fascination. Even more so when their observation is underscored by religious ritual.

A happy Passover and Easter to those who celebrate them!

Mar 30 2009

Blessing of the sun redux

Category: Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy,Events,Judaismalobel @ 2:21 pm


Several months ago, I posted about an upcoming rare event in Judaism — that is, the blessing of the sun, or Birkat Ha-Hammah, that takes place once every twenty-eight years, and is based primarily on the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Brakhot 59b.

The event takes place this year on April 8th, in the early morning. Because Passover happens to begin on the evening of April 8th (a truly rare convergence indeed), many morning celebrations will combine the burning of leaven (chametz) and the blessing of the sun.

For those who may be interested, here are a number of relevant links, spanning several perspectives, both confessional and non:








To quote the immortal bards Gerome Ragni and James Rado, “Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in.”

Nov 08 2008

Hoyle Day at St. John’s College (Cambridge)

Category: Events,History of Astronomyalobel @ 7:48 pm

Ah, so this was Fred Hoyle Day at Cambridge. I would have very much liked to have been there. (However, I’m on a different continent with teaching commitments at the moment.)

Although the event has already taken place, there is some interesting information about the history of astronomy holdings of the St. John’s College library on this site.

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