Barcelona was my home for the summer and I knew the long trip would be life changing. The rebel planet, Uranus, is playing with my chart a lot now, which always creates something new. It can be a new home, a new style and a new haircut. But it also goes much deeper to bring a new awareness of who we are inside and how we connect with the world. I was expecting a new lifestyle, new friends and new clothes, but I wasn’t expecting a new relationship with the sky.
As many people know, I have a big backyard where I watch the sky, especially the planets, every night. It’s my meditation to watch the sunset and then one by one to see each of the planets “Pop” out along the Ecliptic as it gets darker. The Moon is first, of course, then brilliant Venus and bright Jupiter. Mars is very easy to see now, since it’s close to the Earth and very bright and red. Except for Mercury, Saturn is the hardest to see, since it’s never very bright. Sometimes I’m on my chez lounge for 2 hours just watching the sky. All you have to do is just sit there and watch and you will see lots of movement in the night time sky. You might see a ring around the Moon, which is always magical. You might see a blinking satellite slowly traveling the celestial sphere. Of course, you can also see the occasional falling star. For me, the night sky rivals TV.
While I was in Barcelona, I lived in Gotico, which is a medieval barrio with very narrow, winding streets. Two blocks from my place was a 2000-year-old Roman wall. My apartment was on the 3rd floor of a 5 story building, with no elevator, oh boy! As I walked through the city at night, I could only see a little sliver of the sky at a time. It is the first time I understood who people is big cities don’t connect with the sky. You can’t see it! Yes, you might get a glimpse of the Moon, but not relative to the other planets, which is my focus. I like seeing all the planets and see how they move each night relative to each other. It’s called Relative Velocity. I have to say I’m pretty obsessed with doing that. Living in Tucson, the huge, open sky is always there so I can see my planetary friends, and nightly.
Not being able to see the planets or knowing the directions (North, South, East and West), was more disorienting that I ever expected. For the first few weeks in Barcelona, I was getting lost in the narrow, winding, streets of the barrio. I have an excellent sense of direction and Never get lost, but I just couldn’t get oriented. Then, on the evening of my birthday, I got a present from the universe. I found an open plaza, late at night, and could see the Moon and Venus. I sat there long enough to see their movement, which showed me the directions. Ok, I got my bearings. So funny, after that, I never got lost again. I felt my connection with the sky again. It made all the difference in the world for my trip and truly showed me how important the sky was to me. Here is my birthday present of the Moon and Venus over Plaza Catalunya.
The Ecliptic is the apparent path of the Sun and is also where all the planets are at night. All the planets travel along the Great Highway in the Sky, or the Ecliptic. An Eclipse of the Sun and Moon can only occur along the Ecliptic. Once you see where the Sun is during the day, you can always see where the planets will be at night – on the Ecliptic.
Now that I saw where the Ecliptic was in Barcelona, I noticed something that was different that I am used to seeing in Tucson. The Sun wasn’t very high in the sky at noon! Why was that? Barcelona and Tucson are at different latitudes! The definition of latitude is “the angular distance of a place north of south of the Earth’s equator”. Tucson is at 32 degrees north latitude. Barcelona is further north and is at 42 degrees latitude.
One fun astronomical fact is that the North Star is the same number of degrees above the northern horizon as the latitude of your location. So the North Star is 32 degrees in Tucson and in Barcelona, it is 42 degrees about the horizon. Here is the trick: The North Star is always 90 degrees from the Ecliptic. So since Barcelona is located at a higher latitude, the Ecliptic is lower in the sky. I know all this visualizing is tricky, but you can do it.
There was a Total Eclipse of the Moon on July 31st, which was visible in Barcelona – lucky me! So I had to have an Eclipse party on the beach, of course. There were lots of people of the beach there just to watch the Eclipse. Somehow, there was plenty of room for everyone and with great vibes. According to my calculations, the Moon would rise over the Mediterranean Sea already eclipsed. It was a very special Eclipse for a couple of reasons. One, because of a nearly perfect alignment of the Sun, Moon and Earth, it was almost the longest Eclipse possible. In addition, Mars was the closest to the Earth at the same time and was an intense, very bright red. To our luck, Mars was exactly conjunct the Moon during the Eclipse. Ok, all this is worthy of an Eclipse party.
Unfortunately, there was a cloud bank along the eastern horizon, which blocked the Moon and Mars. But luckily, when both the Moon and Mars emerged above the clouds, the Moon was still eclipsed and we had a great show. But we had to wait about half an hour for the Moon to rise above the clouds. So, I was watching the horizon eagerly for the first glimpse of the Moon. Watching, watching, watching – but in the wrong place. Ok, this is where the difference in latitude between Tucson and Barcelona comes in. Since I was used to seeing the Ecliptic higher in the sky, I was expecting the Moon to rise where it would have in Tucson. I was wrong. Of course, the Moon rose along Barcelona’s Ecliptic.
One of my new friends, Olivier, who lives in Barcelona, was the first person to spot the Moon. He got the prize because he was used to see the Moon rise further south than I was used to. It inspired an exciting conversation about traveling the latitudes lines to see the Ecliptic from different locations on the Earth. In Sweden, the Ecliptic would be very low in the sky. In Ecuador, where you are on the Equator, the Ecliptic would be overhead. In Australia, the Ecliptic is in the north, which will reveal a completely different southern sky. Thanks, Olivier, now I have another reason to travel the world!
My stay in Barcelona made me realize that . . . a change in latitude absolutely created a change in attitude. I was reborn as a new person with a surprisingly fresh knowledge of the sky.