New -- 21 March 2008
The ancient civilizations had a great advantage over modern man: they could see the night sky in all of its glory and unhindered by the bright city and rural lights that dominate our landscapes. They were thus able to appreciate far more easily the changes that occurred in the sky -- including everything from the supernova in 1054 AD, observed by Chinese and Arab astronomers and which became known as the Crab Nebula, to the various movements and alignments of the "wandering stars", i.e., the planets.
Unfortunately, for modern humans this inability to routinely guage their lives by what is happening in the skies can sometimes be a problem. It can also result in a lack of awe when it comes to a universe which is spectacularly exciting.
(For example, NASA has some intriguing photos on one of their websites. And then there are the Near Earth Objects, errant and intriguing comets -- the latter including both the almost incredulous Comet Holmes and earlier, Comet Shoemaker-Levy which did a close encounter of the collision kind with the planet Jupiter. A good essay on the subject of threatening comets is that of Gary David's.)
For our purposes, what can we gleam from close attention to the night sky? For starters [pardon the pun] consider the following initiatory event:
It turns out that the ancient Chinese had taken particular note of a planetary alignment of all of the visible planets (along with the Moon and Sun) that had occurred in late February and early March of 1953 B.C.E., i.e., nearly 4000 years ago. The Chinese were in fact so impressed with this phenomena that they initiated their calendar -- their Day 1 being what the modern Gregorian Calendar would call March 5, 1953 B.C.E.
According to National Geographic  all...
Using modern computer techniques it was determined that the rare conjunction of all of the visible planets occurred on February 26, 1953 B.C.E. -- which has been linked to the beginning of the rule of Yu, first emperor of the Xin dynasty. Upon the Sun and Moon joining the aligned planets on March 5, 1953 B.C.E., the Chinese recorded the event as Day One.
It turns out that Dr. Pang's estimate of this being a once-in-10,000-years day may be slightly inaccurate. Like, for example, after less than 4,000 years, we have -- on the near horizon so to speak -- another alignment of the visible planets. This one, however, has a really interesting twist.
In early September of 2040 C.E. we have at just after sunset the following string of pearls:
What becomes even more intriguing is when we compare the two dates -- one which initiated the Chinese Calendar and the other which... does what?
All of which might suggest that Day 1 of the Chinese Calendar represents the beginning of growth and lightness, while Day 3993 of the Chinese Calendar is bringing a close to all such beginnings.
The ancient Chinese would probably have loved this! We are indeed living in interesting times!
 "Day 1 of the Ancient Chinese Calendar", Geographica, National Geographic, December 1993.
 Frances Sakoian & Louis S. Acker, The Astrologer's Handbook, Perennial Library, Harper & Row, New York, 1989.
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