Last night was one of those rare celestial treats, a conjunction, where the young moon, Venus, and Mars all appeared in close proximity to one another, though “close” is of course relative. They were still millions of kilometers apart. The sky was clear, dark, and the three heavenly bodies formed a brilliant crescent in the southwestern sky.
When I came back inside, full of the night sky, its mysteries and beauties, I thought of how Islamic scientists from the Golden Age of astronomy — 9th to 13th centuries — refined the methods for calculating movements and positions of the stars and the known planets and also developed very sophisticated instruments for doing so.
I want to know more about the people the current American administration has decided are dangerous and evil and I’ve decided to study Islamic contributions to science and mathematics over the next while. And that pursuit will take me naturally to poetry and art. For instance, this morning I’ve been reading about Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Birunī (973-1048). A mathematician, astronomer, linguist, physicist, geographer, geologist, and oh, compiler of a vast pharmacopoeia in several languages. Here’s his chart to explain the phases of the moon:
The stars don’t make distinctions about us from their high beautiful place. Nor does the moon.
At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.
Close the language-door
and open the love-window.
The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.