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Mask of the Black God

The Pleiades in Navajo Cosmology



Author:

Teresa M. Schulz
Science Department
Lansing Community College
schulzt@lcc.edu

Abstract:

One Navajo legend attributes the creation of the primary stars and constellations to "Black God." Today, a famous star cluster, the Pleiades, often appears on the traditional mask worn by chanters impersonating Black God during special ceremonies. In this case study, designed for an observational astronomy class or introductory astronomy class with a strong observational component, students learn about the Pleiades in Navajo cosmology while developing their observation and star map skills.

Objectives:
  • Determine celestial coordinates (right ascension and declination) of a given celestial object.
  • Locate the sun on the celestial sphere for any day of the year.
  • Calculate the altitude of Polaris above the northern horizon and the altitude of the celestial equator above the southern horizon for any latitude in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Predict the approximate rise, transit, and set times for a given celestial object from a specific location on a specific date.
  • Describe the location of the Pleiades relative to other prominent nearby constellations.
Keywords: Pleiades; Navajo cosmology; Black God; celestial coordinates; constellation; star map; winter sky
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion
Language: English
Subject Headings: Astronomy  
Date Posted: 06/24/05
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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