Tuesday 13 November 2012

Star Gayzing - The Eclipse of Apollo

If you’re reading this in the South Pacific today you’re very lucky – there’s a solar eclipse over there (though you're half a day ahead of me, so it was probably all over hours ago!). Its one of the most amazing natural phenomena. I only caught part of the eclipse that clipped the Cornish coast in 1999 – I was standing near Trent Bridge with a crowd of several hundred others.

Its no wonder that the ancient civilisations considered eclipses to have magical properties, and be omens of both doom and fortune. Sun gods have often been regarded as the most powerful of all.

In Europe one of the most famous of these gods was Apollo. As a sun god he had other names reflecting his solar attributes, such as Phoebus, meaning “radiant”, and Helius “meaning “sun” (Helios is a different sun god who was frequently identified as Apollo in Ancient Greece).

Apollo’s role as sun god is seen in the legend of the death of his lover Prince Hyakinthos of Sparta, in which his light and heat turned the prince’s blood into a flower.

Apollo was also the god whom the Ancient Greeks saw represented the physical perfection of the male body. Early Greek statues of naked young men were said to represent him. It became the duty of all male Greeks to attempt to honour the gods by striving to develop a well-defined, muscular body just like Apollo’s. To this aim they established gymnasia and it became an essential part of training for the Greek armies. As related elsewhere on this blog, these gyms were also the place where men sought sex with other men.

As well as Hyakinthos Apollo had other male partners. One of these, Cyparissus or Kyparissos, will be related in a future Flower Power article. He also turned several of his female lovers into plants after their deaths as well.

Another male lover links to two constellations which I’ll deal with next year.

Of course, the most obvious association for us in present generations is the NASA space programmes that was named after Apollo. I don’t think I was allowed to stay up to watch the first moon landing in 1969 – I certainly don’t remember seeing it. But I do remember Apollo 13. No doubt there are many lgbt astronomers and astrophysicists who were inspired by the Apollo programme.

Apollo’s name has not been given to any major celestial body, but it has been given to a specific group of smaller ones. In 1932 a German astronomer discovered an asteroid – then lost it! It took another 41 years for another astronomer to find it again. It was called Apollo and was the first of what astronomers call a Q-type asteroid – an asteroid with an orbit that brings it close to Earth or crosses Earth’s orbit. These are also called the Apollo asteroids. One actually crashed into the earth in 2008, and I’ll mention it again in January.

In 2005 it was discovered that Apollo had a little moon of its own. The whole orbit of the moon is no more than 3 kilometers, which means that if Apollo was plonked on top of my flat the moon’s orbit Nottingham would fit quite snugly within it's moon's orbit.

Enjoy the eclipse my antipodean friends.

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