Monday, 3 August 2020

Jupiter and Saturn

If you get the chance take a look at Jupiter and Saturn, quite but not very low in the southern sky from 11pm onwards at the moment. When I looked at 1130pm on 31 July, mainly because there was an amazingly bright full moon, I was amazed to see two large "stars" visible quite close to the moon, with all other stellar objects in a very large arc completely bleached out. Obviously planets, but which ones? Jupiter and Saturn, the National Schools Observatory website* revealed. This is what I saw:

As you can see, Mars should also have been visible except it was behind a hill.

This sight reminded me of one of my favourite Pink Floyd tracks, the early era Astronomy Domine:

Lime and limpid green, a second scene
A fight between the blue you once knew
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground
Jupiter and Saturn,Oberon, Miranda and Titania
Neptune, Titan, stars can frighten.....

The madcap Syd Barrett would laugh at you from beyond the grave if you asked what on earth that lyric means. When Roy Harper got to know David Gilmour in the late 60s he was fascinated by what Pink Floyd's songs were about, the sparse poetic imagery presumably hinting at unrevealed meanings. He was disappointed to be told they weren't really about anything at all, but then they were initially much more about soundscape and Harper concluded Floyd's music was an "aural accompaniment to a lifestyle". Not that there's anything wrong with that and the lyric does complement the music beautifully.

Early Pink Floyd were sometimes dubbed "space rock" though Wikipedia quotes two books to the effect that Astronomy Domine is the band's only overt space rock song, though there was an abstract instrumental called Insterstellar Overdrive. In an interview Roger Waters described the track as the "sum total" of Syd Barrett's writing about space, "yet there's this whole f***ing mystique about how he was the father of it all". Well, one song can be very influential Roger. After all, you then wrote Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. So what's that stuff about Astronomy Domine being the band's only space rock track? Though what is Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun actually about? After all, the two verses of just four lines each bear little apparent relationship to the one line chorus/title. Well, it's been reported that Waters borrowed the lyrics from an English translation of a book of Tang dynasty Chinese poetry. The atmosphere of the song is provided by Rick Wright's atmospheric keyboards and Nick Mason playing drums with timpani mallets, but the studio recording is notable for containing some minor bits of guitar work by both Gilmour and Barrett making it the only Pink Floyd song featuring all five band members.

After Barrett left the band Waters started writing songs that did have clear meanings, though many of them were influenced by Barrett and the band's feelings for him as he struggled with mental health issues.

But back to Astronomy Domine:

Blinding signs flap
Flicker, flicker, flicker, blam, pow, pow

Stairway scare Dan Dare who's there?

Jupiter and Saturn, obviously. Take a look while they're so clear (the moon will be at a different phase and position of course, but click on the link below and it will show you what you should see tonight).

Oh and why not listen to a live version of the track while doing so. If you don't have Ummagumma to hand (if not, why not?) then there's always youtube, several versions but this live for TV in an empty San Francisco Fillmore Stadium is interesting:

*You can find a good view of the four quadrants of the night sky for tonight at different times on the National Schools Observatory site,

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