Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 6th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 January 6
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

A Wide Field Image of the Galactic Center
Image Credit & Copyright: Ivan Eder 


Explanation: From Sagittarius to Scorpius, the central Milky Way is a truly beautiful part of planet Earth’s night sky. The gorgeous region is captured in this wide field image spanning about 30 degrees. The impressive cosmic vista, taken in 2010, shows off intricate dust lanes, bright nebulae, and star clusters scattered through our galaxy’s rich central starfields. Starting on the left, look for the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae, the Cat’s Paw, while on the right lies the Pipe dark nebula, and the colorful clouds of Rho Ophiuchi and Antares (right). The actual center of our Galaxy lies about 26,000 light years.

The Witch’s Altar

The Witch’s Altar
Some scholars think that the first altars were actually tombs of the dead where offerings were made to a deified ancestor. Others believe that the idea of the altar came from the Pagan belief that the newly deceased were gathered on the borders of the sky, under the constellation call Ara, meaning “the altar.” Ara lies in the Milky Way, south of Scorpius, and is well to the south of the celestial equator. The ancient Greeks visualized it as the altar on which their Gods swore an oath of allegiance before challenging the Titans for control of the universe. The word “altar” comes from a Latin word that translates to “on high.” We could put a variety of meanings to this terminology–from a physically high place, to a seat in the stars, to the more esoteric meaning of consecrating a sacred area that sits between the worlds of human and deity, enabling the human to work with deity on the deity’s level from where the Witch physically stands. Ancient altars were often made of stone or, if constructed of wood, held some type of stone surface in the center. Many were carved or painted with symbols of animals and deities. It was during the various Inquisitions that the Witch altar took on a more lurid, negative role–an inappropriate and unaccurate representation of the Craft altar–that was reflected in many horror movies from the 1940s through the 70s, feeding the inaccurate, sensationalist information to the general public. During a few modern Craft ceremonies, a person’s body may become the altar for a few moments to meld them with the elemental and divine energies so that in the future they may work easily through space and time; however, sacrifices and rampant sexual excursions, as shown in the movies, are not part of Wiccan dogma.