Bid Time Return

Despite all the stories and films and my own best efforts, it doesn’t seem like we will be able to time travel in my lifetime. Readers of this blog know that time travel is a topic I write about rather often. I have come to the somewhat disappointing conclusion that there are only a few ways that I can travel back in time. (I haven’t figured out any travel to the future methods yet.)

One way is simply by using memories. They are, of course, somewhat inaccurate as each time we recall something from the past, we seem to alter it slightly. Still, it is the most common time travel tool.

In the 1975 science fiction novel Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson and movie version (Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour), the protagonist, Richard, finds a method of time travel (found in J. B. Priestley‘s very odd book Man and Time about many theories of time) that involves performing self-hypnosis to convince his mind that he’s in the past.

Richard in the 1970s is dying. He decides he wants to spend his last days back in time. He is motivated by a picture of a woman on a hotel wall that he finds himself attracted to – although she was a famous stage actress who performed at the hotel in the 1890s. He stays in the historic hotel and buys an 1890s suit to wear to help reinforce his traveling back to that place and time. He surrounds himself with that time and place. It works.

Photographs and video are also commonly used for traveling back in time. I often wonder how my grandchildren’s memories will be different than mine simply because of the unbelievable amount of photo and video evidence of their lives that already exist. My sons grew up with me photographing them with film cameras. Film and processing and printing were expensive, so I was a bit limited pre-digital. I also took a lot of videos. Most of that was on a big VHS camcorder. Those tapes were converted to DVDs eventually and now I suppose I should convert them to digital files if I want them to survive. The black and white photos my parents took of me as a child still exist in their original format and don’t require conversions – though I have scanned a lot of them so they could enter the digital age. When I look through old photo albums, it is a kind of time traveling to the past.

A third time-traveling method came to mind recently when my wife and I went to France. We were walking through the little town of Pérouges. This medieval walled town is northeast of Lyon and has been kept very much intact over the centuries. As we walked the narrow paths through the own and when I climbed the watchtower on this small hill that overlooks the plain of the river Ain, I did feel myself back in time.

No, I didn’t see ghosts from centuries past. I touched objects that were ancient. I stood where people had stood 900 years ago. I didn’t time travel, but I did feel something.

Watchtower, Pérouges

According to the archaeological findings, humans have been present at Pérouges since the Chalcolithic Age (about –2500 to –1800). They don’t know when the fortress was built but its first written mention appears in the 12th century, so it is assumed to have been built in that period.

It still looks like a place from almost 1000 years ago. Films set in medieval times are sometimes filmed there, including Les trois mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers)(1961), The Bride (1985), and The Hour of the Pig (1993)

This past week the James Webb Space Telescope’s photos of deep space became another kind of time travel. It is showing us light that began a journey towards us at the birth of the universe.

The line that intrigues me most in the graphic above is this: “If you were in a Virgo Cluster galaxy today, and you had a telescope powerful enough to study the Earth, you would be able to see the prehistoric reptiles.” It’s theoretical and probably not possible, but you could see the dinosaurs. You could see the past. From place in deep space, with that powerful telescope, I could see my past.

Richard Matheson’s original title for Somewhere in Time was Bid Time Return. That comes from a line in William Shakespeare’s Richard II (Act III, Scene 2): “O call back yesterday, bid time return.” At the conclusion of the novel, after Richard has died, a doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind. It was the desperate fantasy of a dying man. Richard’s brother is not completely convinced and publishes his brother’s journal of the experience which is the novel.

We are all traveling forward in time. You’re traveling as you read this sentence. Do you want to go back? Go much further forward? So far, I have not found any ways to travel forward in time. I’m still searching.

My Guiding Star

star spin

Anyone who looks up at the night sky and can identify a few stars, constellations or planets knows that everything is always moving.

Or is everything moving? Maybe we are the one who is moving.

There is an expression that your “North Star” is the thing that guides you. The actual North Star or Pole Star – which is named Polaris – is known for holding nearly still in our sky while the entire northern sky moves around it.

It really was a guiding star for ancient travelers and sailors. Like a compass, it showed you due North.

Polaris is located nearly at the north celestial pole which is the point around which the entire northern sky turns. If you painted stars on the ceiling of a room and had your own Pole Star at the center of the room and stood right below it, you could spin like a top and all the stars would circle over your head. Except for that Pole Star.

In my lifetime, the stars have been essentially fixed relative to one another, but over time they are moving around the center of the galaxy.  I wrote earlier about how even the North star has moved and the Pole Star has not always been Polaris.

The universe is still at times unimaginable.

The Return of the Dog Days

dog days
Once again, we enter the Dog Days of summer. These 40 days of especially hot and humid weather often have little rainfall, but here in the Paradelle Northeast of the U.S. we have been getting a lot of rain with our 90+ degree days and humidity.

The ancient Greeks believed that Sirius, the “dog star” was rising with the Sun at this time was adding to the Sun’s heat. After all, since Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, they assumed it would be a second Sun and give off heat like our nearest star.

Sirius is called the Dog Star because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog).  Sirius means sparkling or scorching which is certainly what it seemed like to early astronomers. Sirius is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star.

Those ancients also believed that the weather made dogs go mad. The Romans unfortunately tried to appease Sirius by sacrificing a brown dog at the start of the Dog Days.

Ancient Egyptians saw this time of Sirius arriving with the Sun as the beginning of the Nile’s flooding season. It was also their time for New Year celebrations.

“Dog Days” has become in modern times a term for any period of stagnation or inactivity. Wall Street marks this period as a generally slow and sluggish time for the markets (though earnings do create some heat).

star chart
via Etsy

The Importance of Darkness

night sky
Watcher of the Skies | Image by Pete Linforth

My friend Patricia, who is currently living in the American southwest, sent me an article about programs there to get out to places with dark night skies and see the stars. This is a new kind of travel that is known as astrotourism. There are travel companies and also national and state parks doing these programs.

This is not a time for travel, but I continue to do my stargazing here in Paradelle which definitely is not a dark-sky location. I was looking up at Orion the Hunter at the beginning of this year, but now I note that it has moved very low in the western part of the sky when the sun goes down.

Soon, Orion will disappear into the sun’s glare because, like all the stars, it shifts westward as we pass through the seasons.

In the daytime, I observe the Sun as it moves in the morning from one of my family room windows to another marking winter and summer for me.

Stars have to be in the far northern or southern sky (circumpolar) to avoid movement.  And all the stars and their constellations move westward in the course of a single night. Not that they are actually “moving” but because the Earth is spinning.

Orion is no exception. That motion, though, is due to Earth’s spin. Add to that spin our orbit around the Sun and things are constantly moving out there – from our point of view.

Indigenous peoples have always had a deeper connection to nature, the seasons, and the changes in the Moon, stars, and night sky. I was not surprised to read that Shash Diné, an off-the-grid bed-and-breakfast in the northeast tip of the Navajo Nation in Arizona has become an astrotourism place for night sky observations.

In The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, Paul Bogard writes about the loss of the dark night sky which has influenced our science and art.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is an organization that monitors light pollution and certifies “dark-sky places.”  In the United States, the densest concentration of these locations is found at the Four Corners where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet.

Light pollution makes it difficult to see things in the night sky, but it has other impacts on us. It disrupts wildlife, impacts human health, wastes money and energy, and even contributes to climate change. And it is increasing at twice the rate of population growth. Now, 83% of the global population lives under a light-polluted sky.

A Star to Mark a New Year

Sirius (bottom) and the constellation Orion (right) with its 3-star “belt.”                        (Hubble European Space Agency Image by Akira Fujii –

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky.  Its common name is the Dog Star because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog). “Sirius” means sparkling or scorching – a name given for its brightness in the night sky.  Sirius is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star.

It reaches its highest point in the sky around the stroke of midnight every year and so tonight we can think of it as the New Year’s Star. Astronomers call this a midnight culmination of Sirius. What a cosmically strange coincidence it is that as we ring in the New Year, Sirius peaks in the sky. Is it a coincidence?

To find Sirius, I look North in Paradelle but at midnight I’m really looking up above. You should be able to find Orion’s three belt stars. Follow the belt’s line down to the left (west) and there is bright Sirius.

Like the sun, the stars rise in the east and travel westward across the sky.  Midway between rising and setting, the sun or any star reaches its highest point in the sky. Tonight, for Sirius, it will be at midnight.

At a distance of 2.64 parsecs (Yes, that’s a real thing), the Sirius system is one of Earth’s nearest neighbors. Sirius is gradually moving closer to our Solar System, so it will slightly increase in brightness over the next 60,000 years and then the distance will increase, and it will become fainter. Even then, astronomers say that it will still be the brightest star in the Earth’s night sky for the next 210,000 years.

A bust of Sopdet, the Egyptian goddess of Sirius

The heliacal rising of a star occurs annually when it briefly becomes visible above the eastern horizon at dawn just before sunrise after it has spent a season behind the sun rendering it invisible. Historically, the most important such rising is that of Sirius.

It was an important feature of the Egyptian calendar and marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the star as the goddess Sopdet, the guarantor of the fertility of their land. The Egyptian civil calendar was apparently initiated to have the New Year “Mesori” coincide with the appearance of Sirius.

Sirius (Spdt) in hieroglyphs

The rising meant the “dog days” of summer for the ancient Greeks. To the Polynesians, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, the star’s rise marked winter and was an important reference for their navigation around the Pacific Ocean.

All hail, Sirius!

Everything Is Always Moving

This photo of Aldebaran is cropped from one made of the Hyades star cluster, the nearest cluster to Earth.

Remember back in 2006 when the poor, old planet Pluto was demoted? A group of scientists decided that there are three main categories of objects in our solar system. There are Planets – 8 from Mercury to Neptune. There are Dwarf Planets – now to include Pluto and any other round object that “has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and is not a satellite.” And there are Small Solar System Bodies – all other objects orbiting the Sun.

PlutoI felt bad for Pluto – and so did a lot of other Earthlings.

In 2015, I read that the waxing gibbous moon outside my window was moving toward the star Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Nothing odd about that. Normal movement.

But what I had not known until then was that Aldebaran also had a kind of demotion. It used to be the North Star, also known as the Pole Star. How does a star lose its rather prominent name and place in the sky?

You probably learned that Polaris is the North Star, but a long time ago Aldebaran had that honor. That was 450,000 years ago.

Back then, it appeared several times brighter in the sky then than it does now. In a way, it shared the title because it was very close to another very bright star, Capella, so they served as a double pole star. (This was 447,891 BCE, if you like precision.)

That’s pretty amazing, but it was a long time ago. What really hit me was that in this little solar system of ours and in our beautiful galaxy and this almost unimaginable universe, everything is always moving.  The sky looked different hundreds of thousands of years ago.

sky chart
This illustration shows the view as seen from present-day Arizona in 447,000 BCE when Aldebaran and Capella served as double pole stars. Illustration via Carina Software and Instruments and

The identity of the pole star shifts over time. This is due to the 26,000-year cycle of precession. (read more)

Most people believe the stars essentially fixed relative to one another. Within the scale of human lifespans, that is true. But stars are moving through space in orbit around the center of the galaxy.

The Earth is spinning as I sit here typing. It is making our Moon and Aldebaran shift westward but the Moon is moving to the east relative to the “fixed” stars because of the Moon’s orbit around us.

It is all so amazing. Some people think that looking up into that giant night sky makes them feel so small. I disagree. It makes me feel a part of something so enormous and grand.

Hello, Aldebaran. We didn’t forget you.