Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Wergaia Planisphere: An Educational Tool

The version below has been updated to include a backside for the planisphere and also contains corrections to the original version, including more objects.  You can download the newer version at the bottom of this page.

A planisphere (sometimes called a Star Wheel) is a device used for telling the user what will be in the sky on any given day and time from a particular latitude.  Most are divided between Southern and Northern Hemispheres and work for most populated areas.  While they do not tell the user what planets or solar system objects will be in the sky, as they change over time, the "fixed" stars will not change (unless you're observing for thousands of years!).

Here I provide an Indigenous version of a planisphere, based on the astronomical traditions of the Boorong, a clan of the Wergaia language group in north-western Victoria, as given in the paper "On the astronomy and mythology of the Aborigines of Victoria" by William Edward Stanbridge in 1858 (Click here for a PDF version).  He states that the traditions of the other Wergaia clans are almost identical and claims that his information came from two individuals who prided themselves on knowing more about astronomy than any other Aboriginal group.

This planisphere will tell you more than simply what is in the sky.  By using the descriptions in Stanbridge's paper, you can learn what the rising or setting of particular stars at certain times of the year tell us about the natural world in addition to their role in the stories of the Boorong people.

Examples include:

When Marpeankuurk (Arcturus) is seen in the northern skies in the evening, the larvae of the wood ant are ready to be harvested.

When the mallee fowl, Neilloan (Vega), sets just after the sunset, their eggs are ready to be collected.

When Coonartoorung (the Beehive Cluster) sets it signifies the start of Autumn.

Other examples abound, although Stanbridge did not identify all of the stars and celestial objects by name.  A cross-referenced list of these objects, including identifications of those Stanbridge did not name, can be found in a recent paper by myself and David Frew, entitled "An Aboriginal account of the Great Eruption of Eta Carinae" (click here for a PDF version of the pre-print paper).  I should also note that you will not see any connect-the-dot constellation patterns here, as most Aboriginal groups did not use this approach - a character in a story was denoted by a single star or object.  In some cases, a character was represented by a few stars, but they did not necessarily produce a familiar shape.  There are a few examples of a connect-the-dots approach to constellations, but they are quite rare.

You can download the planisphere here for free.  This is copyrighted, so you can use and distribute it freely but you cannot sell it - it is for educational use only!  Print the file on large A3 card-stock paper (not double sided!).  Cut around the edges as directed.  The match the time of day with the date, and it will tell you what's in the sky!

This planisphere is designed for Southern Hemisphere latitudes and will work in most parts of Australia, South America and South Africa.  I will also make different planispheres for different Aboriginal groups down the road.

1 comment:

  1. This download of the sky map does not work.