Camelopardalis: Inside the Spots

I did not stay up to view the rocky debris that appeared to originate from the northern sky the other night. Universe Today has this detailed report from Minnesota.

The Camelopardalid meteor shower may be new, but I have known about the dim and unremarkable northern constellation that the 17th century politician and astronomer Johannes Hevelius named for a giraffe.

What I didn’t know is that the constellation was originally discovered/identified/imagined by the Dutch astronomer and Protestant cleric Petrus Plancius (another Latinized name of a northerm European scholar) as suggesting the camel that Rebekah rode on the way to meeting her future spouse.

The book of Genesis includes this tender moment for a grieving man:

Then Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of his mother Sarah. He took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her and found solace after the death of his mother. (Genesis 24:67)

The faint stars of Camelopardalis might also be the tears of grief. As life continues and we have mourned the loss of loved ones, new loves come into our lives. And while we never forget those who have died who have been precious to our hearts, we do find solace in new love.

The biblical image of the camel gave way to the spots of a giraffe–that’s what Hevelius thought he saw in the dim and distant stars just “forward” of the Big Dipper.

The Chinese have their own interpretation of these stars. One of them is interpreted as a concubine. That probably wouldn’t have flown with the Dutch Reformed Church in the 1600’s. The great kings of the Bible … well … I suppose Camelopardalis might have been the harem of Solomon. So much for one-man-one-woman marriage.

One of the deep sky sights in Camelopardalis is this galaxy, NGC 2146. Notice the warping of the dark dust lanes–thought to be caused by a close encounter with a smaller galaxy about 800 million years ago:

This galaxy was discovered in 1876, a few centuries after its host constellation was named. It’s about seventy million light years away. Notice also the numerous red patches–those are nurseries where stars are being formed. Pretty neat to think that deep inside a giraffe’s spot, stars are coming to birth.

As it happens, NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe is exiting the solar system in this direction. Its radioactive generator will be long dead by the time it gets anywhere near the stars, let alone this galaxy. Interested in a bit of trivia that shows the immensity of the physical universe? At its current speed and direction, Voyager 1 would arrive in the neighborhood of NGC 2146 in well over a trillion years. By then, there may have been other galactic collisions. NGC 2146 may be long gone. Or faded into near nothing. But it’s more likely Voyager 1 will remain in orbit around the center of our galaxy. Rubbing shoulders with other distant giraffe spots, at least as seen from Earth.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, constellations, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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