The first round of Smithsonian’s Summer Showdown ends today! Did you vote for our Galileo letter yet? Not any ordinary letter, he describes a water-clock driven by a mysterious magnetic force and references his house arrest and the Inquisition’s restrictions on his movements and publications. Obviously it is the Most Seriously Amazing history object in the showdown.

And speaking of Galileo - the gif above is based on an illustration of the Pleiades in The Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius). This year (2015) should be a great viewing of the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 13th, just before the new moon!

The Pleiades Cluster seen in Infrared

Known to the Ancient Greeks as the ‘Seven Sisters’, the Pleiades is one of many star clusters that are visible to the naked eye and have been observed by humans for thousands of years. This particular image of the cluster shows its associated dust - known as Merope Nebula or NGC 1435 - which is particularly spectacular in the infrared. The ‘Nebulosity’ of the Pleiades is caused by surrounding dust reflecting the light of the hot, young stars within the cluster.

Credit: NASA/Spitzer/Wikipedia


The oldest depiction of the universe

This is one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th Century and the oldest depiction of the universe so far. Called the Nebra sky disc, named for the town where it was found in 1999, the artifact has been dated back to 1600 BC. It was buried about 3,600 years ago but could be much older. It has been associated with the European Bronze Age Unetice culture.

When it was first crafted, it would have been golden brown because the disc itself is made from bronze. Over time, the it corroded to green. Fortunately, the symbols are made of gold and thanks to them we know it was possibly an astronomical instrument.
There’s Sun, a central to northern European Bronze Age religion and the crescent moon (in ancient times, the moon was used to represent time). The clump between the sun and moon are thought to be the Pleiades constellation, which was an imporant constellation for Bronze Age farmers because it appeared and disappeared in important farming times. So the Nebra disc could have told people the right time to plant and harvest.

What’s more, astronomer Wolfhard Schlosser, at the University of Hamburg, found that if you draw a line from the center of the disc to the top and bottom end of the right arc, the angle between the two ends measures exactly 82 degrees. And it’s the same value for the left golden arc. This number is very important for only a small group of people who live at the same latitude as the current German town of Nebra since it’s the angle between where the sun sets on the horizon in mid-winter and mid-summer.

The bronze disc combines an extraordinary comprehension of astronomical phenomena enabling to peak into the early knowledge of the heavens. It’s   shocking it was almost lost to the black market.

Seven Sisters: Pleiades

The Seven Sisters, also called the Pleiades or M45, is an open star cluster located about 400 light years away towards the constellation Taurus. It is about 13 light years across and is one of the brightest and closest star clusters to us.

The cluster contains over 3000 stars, most of which are considered middle aged. Surrounding the brighter stars are reflection nebulae, gas and dust reflecting the light from the stars. Also buried in the cluster are faint, low mass brown dwarf stars.

Image from National Geographic, information from NASA.

So, my snake has a middle name. His full name is Pleiades Andromedus. I only call him that when he’s in trouble and I yelled it around 40 times tonight. So, y'all wanna hear a story about a dumbass snake? Like, I love my noodle child, but this is ridiculous.

Tonight I saw that Pleiades had pooped in his enclosure, so like a good owner, I go to grab a roll of paper towels to clean it up.

Well, Pleiades loves paper towel tubes more than mice or probably me, so upon seeing the tube, he decided he needed to hide in it. Nevermind that the tube was a foot away from him and I was still holding the FULL roll of paper towels while he was wrapped around my other hand. Nope, with an absolutely astonishing speed he zoops himself right into the tube. Like he was a damn piece of spaghetti being slurped up by an enthusiastic Italian. In less than five seconds his ENTIRE body is wrapped tightly into the tube.

This picture doesn’t do it justice, this was the halfway point after I’d tried to pull him out with no luck. Cue calling my reptile keeper friend to help me and laughing so hard I was in tears.

How did I get him out? Well I booped him on the snoot and he fell right out into my hand.

Lovely, precious STUPID baby.

“Indigenous shamanic tribes around the world share a surprising understanding. From the Dogon of West Africa to the Australian Aboriginals, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Hawaiians of the Pacific, the Incas of South America and the Mayas in Central America, all believe that humans were seeded from a planet orbiting a sun in the Pleiades, which are also known as the Seven Sisters. In other words, they believe that when a people becomes advanced enough, their shamans go out and help life forms to evolve into sentient beings in new locations in the universe. So shamans believe that life can be found everywhere in this physical universe, and that advanced souls exist on other planets and have a hand in helping others who are just starting out elsewhere. Through their dreams, shamans visit locations beyond the earth and can describe in vivid detail what conditions are like there and the beings who inhabit them. These they refer to as the star nation or star people. Scientists have been amazed that the Dogon people, living without plumbing or electricity have calculated the exact distances to various celestial bodies like the sun and the moon, as well as the exact distance to the Pleiades. When asked how they do it, their response is simply to say that they go to these places all the time.

Shamans are known for their ability to journey to various worlds, to retrieve knowledge, to conduct soul retrievals, to find lost objects, to map the universe, and to communicate with life forms in other locations.”

- José Luis Stevens
Awaken the Inner Shaman: A Guide to the Power Path of the Heart

Image Credit: Annelie Solis