Monday, July 5, 2010

The Pleiades and Maori lore

We were too late for the planetarium show at the Wellington observatory but we had time to browse the books and I came across a children's book on Maori lore. In a nutshell the Maori have a lunar calendar and the new year starts on the first new moon after the heliacal rising of the Pleiades. This is from Wikipedia....

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars known as the Pleiades. When it rises in the north-eastern skies in late May or early June, it signals to Māori that the New Year will begin. In one tradition, Matariki is the mother surrounded by her six daughters, Tupu-a-nuku, Tupu-a-rangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipuna-a-rangi and Ururangi.

Interesting parallel with ancient Egypt in that they used a southern star, Sirius, to do the same job. The Maori use a northern asterism to do the same job. This is not difficult to rationalise, each culture has picked a feature that is not circumpolar. To do otherwise would not give a heliacal rising date in such an obvious way. There is an astronomy talk in there some where.

The modern observatory is in the same mold as Greenwich or Dunsink. Observations were kept to maintain clocks for sailors using the harbour. Note the slit and upper hatchway in this picture which was for the use of the transit telescope. It was repeated on the north side of the building so a complete hour-angle could be seen at one go.

Sorry to all who are not familiar with the astronomy terms. Google can explain it all.

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