Syzygy obscured

Rare word for rare event

This week (10 Dec 2008)  the word, syzygy,  had an opportunity to come out of obscurity and shine brightly. However, the opportunity was lost in the clouds.

On Monday of last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a rare event. Dr Nick Lomb, the Sydney Observatory’s astronomer was predicting a ‘rare cosmic alignment’ in the night sky above Sydney for about three hours. It was to produce a huge smiling face in the sky. It was to  consist of the planets, Venus and Jupiter, forming two brilliant eyes and the crescent moon, directly below, forming a big smile.

Syzygy derives from the classical Latin and Greek word, syzygia. It means yoke, pair, union of two, conjunction, copulation, from syn, together and zygon, yoke.

What is a syzygy

In astronomy, a syzygy is the conjunction or opposition of two heavenly bodies (the Sun, Moon or planets) in a straight line relative to the earth. Examples of syzygies are

  • solar and lunar eclipses
  • transits (when a small celestial body passes directly between a larger body and the observer)
  • occulations (when one object is hidden from the observer by another object that passes between them).

It can also refer to the times of New Moons or Full Moons. At these times the Sun and Moon are in conjunction or opposition although not precisely in one line with the Earth.

Syzygy is also used to describe interesting configurations or alignments of planets in general. Our smiley face certainly qualifies.

The SMH reported that although Dr Lomb was not superstitious and did not believe in omens. However, the astronomer had noted that the syzgyy was to appear on the eve of the Reserve Bank’s meeting to consider interest rates. Interest rates, fortunately were significantly lowered.

When is the next syzygy

However the cloud cover over Sydney obscured the syzygy . And the media reporting of it did not go beyond using the word – alignment. However, do not despair. We can get ready to brush the word off when next we see our smiley face in the early hours of 21 July, 2036.