Your Sky Help: Historical Skies

Your Sky can display the sky as it appeared at any date and time from 4713 B.C. to the distant future (the Sun, Moon, and planets are not shown for dates beyond A.D. 8000 because the technique used to calculate their positions is not valid beyond that date). This permits you to create a star map for almost any date in recorded history. Did the attackers take advantage of a new Moon to sneak up on the enemy? Plug in the date and location of the battle and see for yourself!

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

The ability to display the sky at any moment in history lets you quickly answer questions such as that posed in the April 1992 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine (page 437): did Paul Revere's midnight ride really occur under the full Moon, or did Longfellow add the Moon to his poem purely for atmosphere? Press Update to enter the time and date of Revere's ride: 05:00:00 UTC April 19th, 1775, and set the observing site to Boston. The resulting map shows that the Moon was indeed close to full that night, confirming Revere's own recollection that “the Moon shone bright”. Further, the position of the Moon icon confirms the Moon was ascending in the southeastern sky as seen from Boston as Revere began his ride.

The Star of Bethlehem

Some historians have speculated that the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in the New Testament might have been a close planetary conjunction that occurred in 6 B.C. Let's see for ourselves. Set the Observer's location to Jerusalem, the Universal time to 16:00 UTC February 25, −5 (6 B.C. as historians reckon it), and observe, shining as a beacon in the Western sky at dusk, a rare (not to repeat for 800 years) conjunction among Jupiter (traditional king of the gods), Saturn (ruling planet of Judah), and Mars, occurring in the constellation of Pisces the Fish (the House of the Hebrews) where the equinox had just entered, crossing the border from Aries where it had been since the Greeks. You'll recall that the early Christians recognised one another with the sign of a fish.

A month before, in late January of 6 B.C., low in the western skies of Jerusalem, Mars, heading for its rendezvous with Jupiter and Saturn, passed near faint Uranus, dim yet easily seen by the naked eye in ancient skies unpolluted by the effluvia of modern life and the light of cities that blots out the stars. What a wonder indeed, this new dim wanderer in the sky, perhaps observed but never recorded. In Pisces, the fish. Highly unlikely, yet intriguing nonetheless.

Specifying Date and Time

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