July 7, 2010

Tanabata Matsuri—Star Festival (Japan)

This annual festival is based on an ancient Chinese legend. In the story, two stars that are usually separated by the Milky Way (which is a river of stars) are able to meet only once a year on this date, the seventh day of the seventh month.

People celebrate this holiday by writing a wish or a poem on a piece of colored paper. These slips of paper are hung on a bamboo tree or on bamboo sticks that are placed upright in the ground. Sometimes origami decorations and paper “milky ways” are hung on the bamboo, as well.

The night after the festival, the bamboo sticks and papers are often thrown into a river or burned.

Make a Tanzaku.

Write wishes on colorful paper and attach with string or ribbon to branches or poles.

Then try your hand at making origami stars and milky ways (also called nets).

These Tanzakus are hanging inside a shopping mall.

Star Gaze Tonight.

Most of us are quite cut off from the starry nights our ancestors enjoyed for millennia.
This is because city lights have stolen night's darkness and with it, most of the stars. In order to REALLY star gaze, you need to get out in the middle of an ocean or desert or on top of a lonely mountain.

However, just getting out of town a little ways really helps, and even just going to a dark spot inside your city or town—the middle of a park, facing a hill or forest that cuts
the glare from city lights from your eyes—can make star gazing much better.

If yo
u star gaze in dark skies, on a clear night, you will see the Milky Way. It does look rather like a river made of stars. Do you know what it is, really?

Of course it is our view of our own galaxy. If we could see the Milky Way from outside of the galaxy, it would look like the many spiral galaxies we can see in the sky.

According to SPACE.com:

Our galaxy's center is about 30,000 light years away toward the Sagittarius star cloud; its outer edge is about 20,000 light years in the opposite direction (toward Auriga and Taurus). The Sun and all the outer stars of the galaxy revolve around it at the rate of some 155 miles per second (250 kps). It apparently requires about 200 million of our Earthly years to make one complete revolution, or one "cosmic year," around the center of our galaxy. At the center of the Milky Way is a massive black hole containing as much material as about 3 million or 4 million Suns.
If you can get to dark skies and see the Milky Way, be sure to use some binoculars to check it out even better. Acccording to Star Date online, the Milky Way will be in the eastern skies in the evening, running from north to south.

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