So many tales told about the heav­ens

Myths and leg­ends sur­round stars

South Burnett Times - - NEWS - DARK SKIES JAMES BAR­CLAY

EVER since hu­mans have been walk­ing this planet, we have been fas­ci­nated by wa­ter, ice, fire and the stars.

Over many cen­turies the stars have spawned re­li­gious be­liefs, songs, po­ems, books, nov­els and even movies, and yet we still look in awe at a starry night sky.

How­ever this was not the case when early cave dwellers – long be­fore the Celtic, Druids, Greek, Egyp­tian, Ro­man and Mayan em­pires – be­lieved the stars and pat­terns of stars called con­stel­la­tions were the eyes and homes of gods.

When­ever a so­lar or lu­nar eclipse oc­curred, these an­cient tribes even sac­ri­ficed an­i­mals and hu­mans to ap­pease the gods, all to no avail.

In pre-bib­li­cal times, many tribes thought a me­teor (shoot­ing star) was a sign the gods were pun­ish­ing those who dared op­pose them and a me­teor shower – thou­sands of tiny comet-tail dust par­ti­cles burn­ing up in the up­per at­mos­phere of Earth – was be­lieved by many to be the gods pun­ish­ing those who op­posed them.

High priests who in­stilled fear into the tribe knew very well that those in higher po­si­tions had com­plete con­trol of the masses.

In the mid-1600s, comets were said to be the ‘death of kings’, while oth­ers be­lieved it was a sign of rel­e­vance.

Su­per­sti­tion arose, caus­ing many to be­lieve the end of the world was nigh.

In 1910, when Hal­ley’s Comet ap­peared over New York City after a 75-year ab­sence, many peo­ple took their lives, be­liev­ing the comet was go­ing to wipe out Earth.

‘Comet Pills’ sold like hot cakes, be­liev­ing the pills would stop you from get­ting sick if the Earth passed through the dust tail of the comet.

Wall Street and banks took a mas­sive hit as mil­lions with­drew their stocks and sav­ings.

It was ig­no­rance and the power of the pen, not reli­gion or politi­cians, that caused this panic.

Au­thor, hu­morist and nov­el­ist Mark Twain, born in 1835 on the eve of Hal­ley’s Comet, once said he would go on its re­turn.

Mark Twain died in 1910, 75 years to the day.

When the comet re­turned in April 1986, mil­lions world­wide got to see this in­ter­loper. Hal­ley’s Comet re­turns in 2061.

Play­wright Or­son Welles pro­duced the fa­mous 1938 ra­dio play from the Mer­cury The­atre in New York, War of

the Worlds, caus­ing mass hys­te­ria across the US, be­liev­ing the Earth was be­ing in­vaded by mar­tians.

To­day in this dig­i­tal world of 7 bil­lion hu­mans, 4000 satel­lites, four space tele­scopes, bil­lions of elec­tronic and dig­i­tal de­vices, we’re con­stantly be­ing bom­barded with dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion.

Truth be known, we know more about the uni­verse

than we do of our oceans.

We no longer sell Comet Pills nor cre­ate mass hys­te­ria with ra­dio plays, yet one day in the far dis­tant fu­ture, when hu­mans have found a hab­it­able planet for sur­vival, they, like their an­ces­tors, may re­peat his­tory, where fear and ig­no­rance over­took logic and nor­mal­ity.

If you have an as­tro­nom­i­cal-re­lated ques­tion or want to book a stargaz­ing night at the ob­ser­va­tory, email mao123@big­ or phone 0427 961 391. Visit kingaroy­ob­ser­va­


FIREBALL: Meteors and other heav­enly bod­ies have in­spired many sto­ries through the years.

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