The incredible impact of stars on culture

Nov 19, 2010
This is the cover of "The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization." Credit: Springer / Heidelberg

For Hawaiian navigators, the star Sirius was "Hokuho'okelewa'a," meaning "star to guide canoe." Traditional Aboriginal Australians looked at the Magellanic Clouds and saw distant campfires in the sky.

In every culture, from prehistory to the modern day, the stars have played a key role in inspiring and shaping human efforts to understand and master the universe we live in. In a newly published book, The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization, Bryan Penprase traces the cultural roots of modern through the various cosmologies, mythologies, calendaring systems, monuments and theories with which people around the world have connected the heavens to their own lives.

"In these pages," Penprase says in the opening section of the book, "we will explore the many ways in which humans throughout time have responded to the sky. Sometimes they responded with fear, sometimes with great artistry and other times with great rationality. Each culture of the world for thousands of years viewed the same stars and planets we can observe on any clear night. And the power of the , filled with shimmering stars, has left its mark on ."

The book ranges around the globe from the ancient Babylonians to the Incas, from Greek myths to Australian creation stories, from Mayan calendars to the Chinese Zodiac, and from the Egyptian pyramids to such modern celestial structures as the Rodin Crater Project of artist James Turrell, concluding with a brief history of the modern scientific understanding of the universe. The book also includes more than 200 images.

Penprase has been a member of the Pomona College (USA) faculty since 1993. He received his Ph.D. in astronomy and from the University of Chicago. Penprase's research in astronomy and astrophysics has taken him around the world. He is currently a member of an international team conducting the largest study ever of near-Earth asteroids. The Power of is his first book.

Explore further: Non-citizens face harsher sentencing than citizens in US criminal courts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A New Class of Variable Stars Revealed

Feb 26, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Modern astronomy sometimes makes discoveries by looking in new places, the distant universe for example, using telescopes and instruments that extend the previous limits of detection.

Star Count Goes Global

Oct 15, 2008

Schoolchildren, families and citizen scientists around the world will gaze skyward after dark from Oct. 20 to Nov.3, 2008, looking for specific constellations and then sharing their observations through the ...

Astronomers eager to add to Sky in Google Earth

Sep 07, 2007

Since Sky in Google Earth debuted two weeks ago to let the public explore the heavens from their computers, two University of California, Berkeley, astronomers have jumped in to populate Google's sky with ...

Recommended for you

Power can corrupt even the honest

43 minutes ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

1 hour ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

2 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

Minorities energize US consumer market, according to report

3 hours ago

The buying power of minority groups in the U.S. has reached new heights and continues to outpace cumulative inflation, according to the latest Multicultural Economy Report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the ...

User comments : 0