Introduction: The Constellation Journey

map by Gill Russell

The word ‘planet’ derives from Greek planasthai, ‘to wander.’ The planets used to be considered ‘wandering stars.’ For the three wandering ‘stargirls’ as we became known, Gill Russell (astronomer/artist), Rachel Hazell (craft bookbinder) and myself (writer), our journey in the spring and summer of 2007 took us both around the northern skies and around the north of Scotland as we spun between ‘fixed’ stars, and fixed locations, visiting Highland schools and helping children to expand their understanding of the cosmos through creative work with words and paint and paper.

Stars are a dazzling starting point for learning. From different latitudes of our planet, people see different parts of the cosmos. The stars appear in different orientations. But nearly every culture has seen patterns in the sky, and attributed to them their own ‘hall of fame’ of stories. Stars reinforce our common humanity and link us to others. Indeed, astronomical knowledge defies cultural boundaries. In Western Europe, we have a system of Greek constellations with Latin names, containing stars with Arabic names.

As creatures that walk upright, the heavens are half our visual field. The stars have inspired countless poems, guided sailors, been used to foretell the future. They have provoked us to devise technology for seeing and understanding what is out there, and even to travel amongst them. But they are ancient and their stories reach far beyond our own.

On our way through the Highlands, we helped children from fourteen schools to select between them seven stars. Each star was chosen for brightness and visibility, for connection to place through name or history. In each location we helped the children select and celebrate ‘their’ star. Each star was also chosen for its visible relationship to those chosen before, because they were going to belong together. Their pattern has become a new constellation, ‘The Jumping Fish’, in celebration of Highland Year of Culture 2007. On the way to this, our star-gazing, and our stravaiging described pathways between beacons on two maps. This is the story of those two constellations. One celestial, one terrestrial.

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