History News: The Face of Copernicus

This is truly fascinating. Copernicus died at age 70 in 1543, and scientist now say they have found his grave  and have reconstructed the features of his skull. The way they acquired his DNA is especially interesting.

image provided by the Kronenberg Foundation in Warsaw on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008,

WARSAW, Poland – Researchers said Thursday they have identified the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus by comparing DNA In this image provided by the Kronenberg Foundation in Warsaw on Thursday, Nov.from a skeleton and hair retrieved from one of the 16th-century astronomer’s books. The findings could put an end to centuries of speculation about the exact resting spot of Copernicus, a priest and astronomer whose theories identified the Sun, not the Earth, as the center of the universe.

Swedish genetics expert Marie Allen analyzed DNA from a vertebrae, a tooth and femur bone and matched and compared it to that taken from two hairs retrieved from a book that the 16th-century Polish astronomer owned, which is kept at a library of Sweden’s Uppsala University where Allen works.

The reconstruction shows a broken nose and other features that resemble a self-portrait of Copernicus, and the skull bears a cut mark above the left eye that corresponds with a scar shown in the painting.

Copernicus was known to have been buried in the 14th-century Frombork Cathedral where he served as a canon, but his grave was not marked. The bones found by Gassowski were located under floor tiles near one of the side altars.

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It’s Fall! Harvest Moon

The Harvest Moon for 2008 will occur September 15. It was large and beautiful last year, and I gazed at it many times, but especially while working at  the Haunted Corn Maze at Hale Homestead in Coventry CT. The  silvery light certainly added to the paranormal atmosphere of the event as the glowing moon majestically climbed higher and higher above the 12 foot stalks of corn.

My curiosity about the moon, which we tend to take for granted these days, prompted an internet search, and here is a collection of the facts and folklore that caught my fancy.

If the Moon is already up in the sky in the evening, when the Sun goes down, then the Moon is waxing. Every night it will rise a little later in the day and look a little fuller. At Full Moon it will rise almost exactly when the Sun sets. In the northern hemisphere, the waxing moon begins as a crescent on the right hand side of the Moon’s face; in the southern hemisphere, the waxing crescent is illuminated on the left side.

About 40 % of the moon’s surface is never seen from earth. Nobody can explain why the the moon is exactly the right distance and diameter, to completely cover the sun during an eclipse.

The behavior of the moon has puzzled me, so I appreciate the discovery of this little poetic reminder of its habits:

“A New Moon rises with the Sun,
Its Waxing half at midday shows,
The Full Moon climbs at Sunset hour,

And Waning half the midnight knows.”

The highest mountain on the moon is 16,000 feet, while the deepest crater is 15,000 feet. The moon weighs 18 quintillion tons.

The English word “moon” exists in similar form in all Indogermanic languages and comes from the Greek word meaning “measure.” This is no surprise: most old cultures measured time with the moon. In fact, our word “month,” derived from “moon,” originally referred to the moon’s 29 day cycle. Several cultures warn against sleeping in moonlight, believing it affects a person’s sanity. The word “lunatic” originally referred to people who were thought to have been driven insane by the moon. Even now we believe a full moon makes people act oddly, babies rush to be born, and young lovers irrational.

The Earth’s natural satellite has fascinated and intrigued humankind for centuries. The ancients wondered at its changing shape and considered it a symbol of fertility. Countless cultures have connected it with mystery, witchcraft, and superstition. The modern world has considered it a challenge to be conquered by space flight and lunar colonization. Poets, artists, and scientists have been enamored by its presence as they contemplate beauty and probe the secrets of the universe.
The Book of the Moon
Tom Folley

We see only part of the moon that is lit by the sun. During the Full Moon, the sun is shining directly on the Moon. At all other times, the Earth is in the way, so only part of the Moon waxes (grows) while going from New Moon (dark) to Full Moon. It wanes (decreases) when going from a Full Moon to a New Moon. This cycle happens every 29.5 days.

Early observations of the Moon’s apparent control of living things evolved into a rulebook covering the growth of plants, animals, and people. Certain phases of the Moon were thought to be auspicious times for planting, pruning and harvesting. There is now some scientific evidence that some of this “lore” actually works.

Most of the year, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each night. September’s so-called Harvest Moon is unique in that it rises only 20 minutes later each subsequent evening. In the days before electricity, this early rising moon essentially extended the working day during the busy harvest season.

Now the moon is a bit less mysterious to me, but still, it will never loose its mystical allure.

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