Constellation of the Month: Orion

December 31, 2018 | By Peter Forrester

We’ve had several clear or partially clear nights recently. If you’ve looked up just slightly while facing east about 6 or 7 pm, chances are you’ve seen the Constellation of the Month.

Orion is one of the brightest and best-known constellations in the sky. Even people who know very little about astronomy or stars may recognize this particular shape in the sky. It is located very close to several of the “zodiac” constellations. Due to its brightness, and familiarity, it can be used to find many other constellations. Thus it seems an appropriate choice for the first constellation of the month.

Orion is sometimes called a winter constellation. In most of the summer it is not visible in the Northern Hemisphere, and at other times it can only be seen in the early morning. I recommend dressing up and braving all this cold weather to get a good look at this thing; it really is the best time of year to see it. It’s so bright, I can catch glimpses of it while driving home in the evening (not that you should be looking at stars behind the wheel, of course).

Orion has been pictured as a hunter since the time of the early Greeks. The seven brightest stars form a shape like an hourglass. Four make up his shoulders and feet, and the other three are his belt. He is holding something in front of him, interpreted as a shield. There are also many dimmer stars, and several nebulae (clouds of dust and gas out in space) which can be seen with the naked eye. Looking at these objects through binoculars is an even more wonderful experience.

To the left of Orion are found the two dogs, Canis Minor and Canis Major, and above him to the right, on the other side of the shield, is Taurus the Bull. Above him and a bit to the left is the constellation Gemini, the twins. Taurus and Gemini you might recognize as the names of two zodiac constellations.

Rigel is usually the brightest star in Orion, and the seventh brightest star in the night sky. I say “usually” because the star Betelgeuse (pronounced BEETLE-juice) is a variable star, and is sometimes brighter than Rigel. Rigel is considered to be the left foot of Orion, though it appears on the right side from our perspective. The second and third brightest stars in Orion, the two shoulders, are called Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. They have both had their names borrowed for popular works of fiction. For some reason Rigel’s name has not been as popular. The other bright stars (among the 7 brightest) include Saiph, the other foot, and the three in the belt are called Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. Sidenote: many star names come from Arabic, perhaps because of an early Muslim astronomer (Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi) who made detailed drawings and descriptions in his book, called Book of Fixed Stars, published around 964 A.D.

I am sure many readers are interested in knowing how you can use Orion to locate other constellations. There are many good illustrations of this online. A simple search will bring up many of these. My favorite drawings that I’ve found so far are found on a site of educational articles called Owlcation; see the first reference below. The article has some typos but the drawings are great. The author also recommends two free astronomy software programs, which I plan to review in the near future.

Following the line of Orion’s belt down and to the East (left), you come to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which is part of the large dog, Canis Major. Following the belt the other way leads you to Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. You can also draw a line from the bottom right star, Rigel, up through the top left, Betelgeuse, and this leads you to Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars in Gemini. And a line through the shoulders, down and to the East leads you to Procyon, the brightest star in the small dog, Canis Minor.

Besides Taurus, Gemini, and the two dogs, you can also locate the Pleiades star cluster, as well as a constellation called Cetus, the Whale by drawing lines using stars in Orion. There are also two patterns of stars or asterisms around and including Orion that can be used to locate various constellations. The Winter Triangle contains Sirius, Procyon and Orion’s Betelgeuse. The larger Winter Circle or Hexagon is composed of six stars, one of which is Rigel.

Orion has had many different names in different ancient nations’ descriptions and mythology. It has been identified with the Egyptian god Sah, and with the founder of the Armenian nation, Hayk. It has not always been seen as a hunter, or even as a man. There is much more of the mythology and history to be found in the Wikipedia article, including a Greek story about why Orion and the constellation Scorpio are never in the sky at the same time.

People in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can see Orion in the early evening right now, though it is summer for the people in the Southern Hemisphere. It also appears upside down there, from my northern perspective in Milton, and above rather than below the ecliptic. It is almost overhead for people near the Equator, however, and not visible at all at the South Pole, because the Sun doesn’t set during summer there.

See also: Observing the Planets: Venus | What Is the Zodiac, Anyway? | Skies Over Milton, December Edition


Owlcation. (Updated 2018, March 13). Using Orion to find Stars and Constellations. By RaulP. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 31). Book of Fixed Stars. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 31). List of Arabic Star Names. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 31). Orion (constellation). Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 31). Winter Hexagon. Retrieved from

Milton in the News – 1854

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | December 30, 2018

Here we find again the inhabitants of Milton stoutly opposing slavery. In this instance, Senator William P. Fessenden, an anti-slavery Whig from Maine, submitted to the US Senate the petition of 340 male voters of Milton, NH, for a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Their petition was referred to committee, i.e., ignored.

Congress Thursday. In the Senate. Mr. Fessenden presented a petition signed by over 340 voters of the town of Milton, N.H., the birthplace of President Pierce, praying for a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law – referred. The bill to establish a line of steamers between the ports of San Francisco and Shanghai, in China, was then taken up, when Mr. Seward supported the bill in an earnest and forcible speech, and when he concluded, the bill was laid aside to take up the bill appropriating $10,000,000 for the ratification of the Mexican Treaty, which was received from the House. The bill was immediately passed by a vote of 34 to 6. After an Executive Session, the Senate adjourned (Hartford Courant, July 1, 1854).

The Milton of 1850 had 1,629 inhabitants, consisting of 307 households residing in 295 dwellings. (That makes for an average of 5.31 inhabitants per household and 5.52 inhabitants per dwelling). Of those 1,629 inhabitants, 861 were males and 768 were females. (This ratio is rather male heavy). Some 431 of those male inhabitants were of voting age.

So, the 340 anti-slavery petitioners of 1854 represented nearly eight-tenths (78.9%) of Milton’s 431 eligible male voters. We might justly take pride in them.

One of the principal methods used by those opposing the Fugitive Slave Law was jury nullification. Jurors simply refused to convict those on trial for aiding fugitive slaves. They were well within their rights to do so. They held the Fugitive Slave Law to be invalid.

It has always been, and still is, a juror’s absolute right to judge the validity of the laws being prosecuted, as well as the facts of any particular case. NH’s constitution, as well as its laws, explicitly recognize and acknowledge what was already a juror’s natural right.

See also Milton and Abolitionism and Milton in the News – 1838

Previous in sequence: Milton in the News – 1853; next in sequence: Milton in the News – 1857


FIJA. (2018). Fully Informed Jury Association. Retrieved from

NH General Court. (2012). RSA 519:23-a – Right of Accused. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 6). Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, November 8). Jury Nullification. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, November 6). William P. Fessenden. Retrieved from

The Maple’s Lament

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | December 29, 2018

It was formerly a common practice for violin makers to inscribe a Latin phrase inside violins that translates “Living in the woods I was silent, but now I sing.”

Bluegrass violinist Laurie Lewis asked what the tree might have to say about it:

The Maple’s Lament | By Laurie Lewis

When I was alive, the birds would nest upon my boughs,

And all through long winter nights, the storms would round me howl,

And when the day would come, I’d raise my branches to the sun,

I was the child of earth and sky, and all the world was one.

But now that I am dead, the birds no longer sing in me,

And I feel no more the wind and rain, as when I was a tree,

But bound so tight in wire strings, I have no room to grow,

And I am but the slave who sings, when master draws the bow.

But sometimes, from my memories, I can sing the birds in flight,

And I can sing of sweet dark earth, and endless starry nights,

But, oh, my favorite song of all, I truly do believe,

Is the song the sunlight sang to me, while dancing on my leaves.


Lewis, Laurie. (2010). The Maple’s Lament. Retrieved from

Milton in the News – 1853

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | December 27, 2018

Construction on the Great Falls & Conway Railroad was “near” Milton, NH, when this blasting accident occurred on Thursday, December 23, 1852.

Three men who were at work on the Great Falls and Conway Railroad, near Milton, N.H., on the 23d ult., were severely injured by tbe premature explosion of a blast. One of them had an eye blown out (New York Times, January 13, 1853).

SAD ACCIDENT – On Thursday, the 23d ult., as some workmen on the first section of the Great Falls and Conway Railroad at Milton, N.H., were engaged in blasting on a ledge, the powder took fire from a spark produced from striking the tamping iron against the rock when “tamping down,” severely injuring three of the workmen. One man had an eye blown out, and was otherwise injured about the head, and the other two were severely burnt by the powder (Orleans County Gazette (Irasburgh, VT), January 29, 1853).

Nothing in this report indicates whether the “first section” of the railroad line had progressed “near to” Milton or just beyond it.

AN INTERESTING CLIPPING. The following paragraph of local interest is clipped from the Boston Journal’s department, “News of Fifty Years Ago.”

“Railroad Project. A meeting was to have been held at Portsmouth last evening to take measures to secure the construction of a railroad from Great Falls to Eliot. The Portsmouth Journal states that the whole expense of the construction of the road from Eliot, a little less than six miles, to Great Falls is about $100,000. About $60,000 of this sum has already been subscribed, and a subscription of $20,000 from Portsmouth would warrant its immediate construction. This would be a branch or extension of the Great Falls or Conway road, which is open from Great Falls to Milton, thirteen miles, and 300 men are now on the road between that place and Wakefield, nine miles further.” (Portsmouth Herald, February 3, 1903).

This Portsmouth Herald article of February 1903 reprints a Portsmouth Journal article of fifty years earlier, i.e., February 1853. It has the railroad open already as far as Milton, with 300 men working between there and Wakefield. The December 1852 blasting accident mentioned above must have happened in the stretch between Milton and Union, but closer to Milton.

The Great Falls & Conway Railroad reached Wakefield’s Union village by 1855.

Previous in sequence: Milton in the News – 1848; next in sequence: Milton in the News – 1854

Observing the Planets: Venus

By Peter Forrester | December 26, 2018

If you have gotten out to look at the sky one or two hours before sunrise, and seen a really bright star to the east or slightly southeast, that is actually not a star, but the planet Venus.

The second planet from the Sun is the third brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and Moon. It outshines even the brightest stars, with its apparent magnitude reaching as high as -4.6 (for historical reasons, the brightness index is inverted, with the lowest numbers being the brightest).

This neighboring planet is a twin of the Earth – they are very similar in size, though Venus’s thick atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide would be poisonous to breathe. That atmosphere, however, is a boon for stargazers, as it reflects sunlight very well.

Venus is often called the “morning and evening star” because it appears just before sunrise or just after sunset. Since it is closer to the Sun than our Earth, which in astronomers’ language makes it an “inferior planet”, it is always fairly close to the Sun in the sky, within about 47 degrees. Because it is closer to the Sun, Venus also goes through phases, like the Moon, which can be seen through a strong pair of binoculars, or a telescope. It is at its brightest when in crescent phase, ironically enough, because that is when it is closest to us.

The best time to see Venus is either in the early morning, 1-2 hours before sunrise, or 1-2 hours after sunset, though it can also be seen sometimes during full daylight. Right now it is in its “morning” part of its cycle. The full cycle of morning star and evening star (including times when it can not be seen at all) takes 584 days, although Venus only takes 224 days to orbit the Sun.

Occasionally Venus crosses in front of, or “transits” the Sun. The last time this happened was in 2012. I would caution you to take extreme care when watching this, using undamaged eclipse glasses (anything not so dark, such as ordinary sunglasses, exposes your eyes to damage from the Sun). But it seems pointless – the next transit of Venus will be in 99 years, in the year 2117. However, the smaller planet of Mercury transits much more often; more on this later.

Being a bright planet, Venus has been known ever since man stood and looked up at the stars, though apparently it took the ancients a while to discover that the “morning star” and the “evening star” were the same object. The oldest records show the ancient Sumerians recognized it as one object, connecting it with their goddess Inanna; however the Chinese had separate names for the morning and evening appearances. The Babylonians also had detailed observations and called it “the bright queen of the sky”. The Romans called the two aspects Lucifer, the “Light-bringer”, and Vesper, the name of the evening star (Hesperus was the Greek equivalent, and considered to be a god), though the Greeks had discovered that they were one object (this rediscovery was credited to both Pythagoras and Parmenides). Of course, famously, the Romans also named the planet after their goddess of love.

The Pawnee in North America and the Mayans also observed Venus. In fact, measuring the movement of the planet was one of the main reasons the Mayans built their observatory at Chichen Itza, and some parts of their calendar system are based on the movements of Venus.

As late as 1960, writers were hoping its thick atmosphere would make the planet conducive to life, but these hopes were shattered by the various space probe missions to the planet, the first of which was sent in 1961. NASA’s Mariner 2 was the first successful flyby in 1962, later followed by several successful missions from the Soviet Union. These Russian probes became the first to accomplish several things in space exploration.

  • The first to enter the atmosphere of another planet: Venera 4, 1967
  • The first to make a soft landing on another planet: Venera 7, 1970
  • The first to return photographs from the surface of another planet: Venera 9, 1975
  • The first to perform high-resolution radar mapping of Venus: Venera 15, 1983

These observations, as well as improved technology of Earth-based telescopes, helped clinch the death of the idea of life on Venus. In addition to the high CO2 content, it also has a very high atmospheric pressure, 100 times that of Earth, and the surface temperature of 860 – 900 degrees Fahrenheit is hot enough to melt lead. Apparently there is still hope of doing missions to the upper atmosphere, however, where the temperature and pressure are much lower.

For more on the history and observation of this sister of our Earth, see the sources below. In particular, the Cosmic Pursuits article has an excellent explanation and diagram of the phases of Venus.

Happy stargazing!

See also:

Skies Over Milton, December Edition and What Is the Zodiac, Anyway?


Cosmic Pursuits. (2016, November 24). A Brief Guide to Observing the Planet Venus. By Brian Ventrudo. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 26). Transit of Venus. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 26). Venera. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 26). Venus. Retrieved from



Milton in the News – 1848

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | December 25, 2018

Here follow more Federal requests for proposals (RFP) for post roads or routes. First, route 236, which would run thrice a week from Great Falls, i.e., Somersworth, NH, to Eaton, NH, and back, with Milton as a stop along the way.

NEW HAMPSHIRE. 236. From Great Falls at 1 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday By Rochester, Chestnut Hill, Milton, Union, Wakefield, North Wakefield, Ossipee, Centre Ossipee, West Ossipee, and Eaton. To Conway, by 4 a.m. next days, 60 miles and back between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Next, a “special” satellite post road or route that ran thrice a week from Milton to Milton Mills, and back.

Special Offices. Proposals are invited for supplying the following offices in New Hampshire for the nett [SIC] proceeds of said offices, respectively – limited to a sum to be named in the proposals in each case: Albany from Conway, 4 miles and back, once a week. Alstead from New Alstead, 3½ miles and back, twice a week. Bedford from Manchester, 4 miles and back, three times a week. Drewsville from Bellows Falls, 3 miles and back, three times a week. Hanover Centre from Hanover, 6 miles and back, once a week. Harrisville from Dublin, 4 miles and back, once a week. Holderness Centre from Holderness, 4 miles and back, once a weak. Hudson from Nashua, 3 miles and back, three times a week. Jackson from Lower Bartlett, 5 miles and back, twice a week. Landaff from Bath, 4½ miles and back, twice a week. Londonderry from Derry, 4 miles and back, three times a week. Loudon Ridge from Gilmanton, 3 miles and back, twice a week. Lyndeboro from South Lyndeboro, 3 miles and back, twice a week. Milton Mills from Milton, 5 miles and back, three times a week. Nelson from Nelson Factory, 3 miles and back, twice a week. New Durham from Farmington, 5 miles and back, once a week. North Londonderry from Manchester, 6 miles and back, twice a week. North Salem from Salem, 4 miles and back, once a week. North Sandwich from Centre Sandwich, 6½ miles and back, once a week. North Weymouth from Quincy, 3 miles and back, three times a week. Orfordville from Orford, 2 miles and back, three times a week. Poplin from Raymond, 4 miles and back, once a week. Roxbury from Keene, 5 miles and back, once a week. Rye from Portsmouth, 5½ miles and back, twice a week. South Bradford from Bradford, 2½ miles and lack, twice a week. South Kingston from Newtown, 4 miles and back, twice a week. Surry from Keene, 6 miles and back, twice a week. Sutton from Warner, 9 miles and back, three times a week. West Boscawen from Boscawen, 7 miles and back, twice a week. West Windham from Windham, 3½ miles and back,  twice a week (Washington Union, December 31, 1848).

This was likely the final post office route proposals for route 236, as defined above. The Portsmouth, Great Falls and Conway railroad would reach South Milton, by 1850, and Union, by 1855. Thereafter, mail for Milton would come by train.

Likely, the special route from Milton to Milton Mills became instead a special route from Union station to Milton Mills.

See also Milton in the News – 1827, Milton in the News – 1839, and Milton’s First Postmasters (1818-c1840)

Previous in sequence: Milton in the News – 1845; next in sequence: Milton in the News – 1853

BOS Workshop Session Scheduled (December 26, 2018)

By Muriel Bristol | December 24, 2018

The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) have posted their agenda for a BOS Workshop and a BOS Extra Meeting to be held Wednesday, December 26.

The first meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:00 PM. The agenda for the Workshop meeting has one item.

Review and discuss the RFP bids for Town owned building demolition and real-estate RFPs.

The Extra Meeting is intended to begin at 4:30 PM. It has two agenda items.

Town owned property demolition discussion. Other business that may come before the Board.

The RSAs no doubt require a regular meeting, an “Extra Meeting,” so to speak, rather than a workshop meeting, for actual voting.

They will not be recorded. Mr. McDougall asked again that the BOS workshop meetings be recorded for the larger at-home audience. (The sort of transparency and accountability that Chairman Thibeault promised when he ran for office). One doubts that will happen at this point, but we shall see.

Under our own “other business”: May all our readers have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Mr. S.D. Plissken contributed to this article.


Town of Milton. (2018, December 21). BOS Workshop & Extra Meeting Agendas, December 26, 2018. Retrieved from

Youtube. (1965). Cone of Silence. Retrieved from

Milton in the News – 1845

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | December 23, 2018

Milton buildings burned frequently. It had partly to do with their construction methods and materials, everything being made of wood, including wooden roof shingles, and partly to do with heating with fires. Heat was provided by open hearth fires, then the more efficient but more intensely-hot wood stoves, and, later, coal fires.

FIRE AND LOSS OF LIFE. A correspondent of the Bee at Rochester, N.H., writes that a fire broke out on the 17th at Milton Three Ponds, which consumed the new and excellent yarn mill of Messrs. A.S. Howard & Co. – Loss about §12,000, and no insurance. A very worthy young man, the son of John H. Varney, who was a watchman in the mill, was burnt to death (Baltimore Daily Commercial, November 24, 1845).

The mills at Milton, (N.H.,) owned by Messrs. A.S. Howard & Co., and occupied for the manufacture of cotton yarn, were entirely destroyed by fire last week. Loss $12,000. A man who was asleep in the loft was burnt to death (Columbian Fountain (Washington, DC), November 27, 1845).

Fires. A correspondent of the Boston Bee, writing from Rochester, N.H., states that a fire broke out on the 17th at Milton Three points, which consumed the new and excellent yarn mill of Messrs. A.S. Howard & Co. Loss about $12,000, and no insurance. A very worthy young man, the son of John A. Varney, who was a watchman in the mill, was burned to death (Daily National Pilot (Buffalo, NY), November 27, 1845).

Except for the death of the unfortunate young watchman, Caleb Varney, this was a relatively routine fire by Milton standards. And Milton was not alone in experiencing such “conflagrations.” Dover lost a whole block of wooden storefronts in 1847, and its railroad station in 1848, just to name a few. Rochester and Portsmouth suffered very severe fires over the years.

Algernon Sidney Howard was born in Tamworth, NH, October 17, 1796, son of David and Rebecca (Whitman) Howard. He died in Sangerville, ME, August 5, 1859.

In 1834 the “Mechanics Company” was incorporated consisting of Algernon S. Howard, Richard Kimball, Joseph Anthony, and their associates, all of Great Falls. They built the [Rochester] “Lower Mill,” where they made blankets for six or seven years, when they failed, having sunk their whole capital, and paid no debts (McDuffie, 1892).

Previous in sequence: Milton in the News – 1843; next in sequence: Milton in the News – 1848


McDuffie, Franklin. (1892). History of the Town of Rochester, New Hampshire, from 1722 to 1890. Retrieved from

Milton in the News – 1843

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | December 21, 2018

Andrew Howard, of Rochester, NH, robbed and murdered Miss Phebe Hanson, aged sixty-three years, at her home in the Meaderboro district of Rochester, NH, on Tuesday, September 19, 1843.

That is really a Rochester story. Milton residents appear here only peripherally, as members of an “indignant” crowd of 10,000 onlookers, who were present outside the Dover jail for the November 1845 execution of the murderer.

The Exeter News-Letter says that the gallows had been erected and preparations all made for the execution of Andrew Howard, at Dover, (N.H.) before the Governor arrived with a reprieve. The people who had come from Barrington and Bowpond, Squannemagonic and the Dock, the Three Ponds and Crown Point, Barnstead and the Bear country, to see the sight, were very indignant at the interference of the Governor. The Dover Gazette estimates that there were 10,000 strangers in that town on that day (Weekly National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), November 29, 1845).

Apart from the indignation, which was quite strong (many subsequent demonstrations), our principal interest lies in the names of the places from which the 10,000 people came. Barnstead and Barrington are obvious. Three Ponds is Milton. The Dock is the Puddle Dock district of Farmington, Squannemagonic is the Gonic district of Rochester, and Bow Pond and Crown Point are districts of Strafford. Bear Country remains a mystery.

The murderer Howard was eventually hanged at the Dover jail at 1:40 PM, Wednesday, July 8, 1846. He was then twenty-three years of age.

Previous in sequence: Milton in the News – 1842; next in sequence: Milton in the News – 1845

Every Watch Is a Compass

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber)  | December 20, 2018

Don’t get lost:

Every Watch Is a Compass

A few days ago I was standing by an American gentleman, when I expressed a wish to know which point was the north. He at once pulled out his watch, looked at it, and pointed to the north. I asked him whether he had a compass attached to his watch. “All watches,” he replied,  “are compasses.”

Then he explained to me how this was. Point the hour hand to the sun and the south is exactly half-way between the hour and the figure XII on the watch. For instance, suppose that it is 4 o’clock. Point the band indicating four to the sun and II on the watch is exactly south.

Suppose that it is 8 o’clock, point the band indicating eight to the sun and the figure X on the watch is due south. My American friend was quite surprised that I did not know this.

Thinking that very possibly I was ignorant of a thing that everyone else knew, and happening to meet Mr. Stanley, I asked that eminent traveler whether he was aware of this simple mode of discovering the points of the compass. He said that he had never heard of it. I presume, therefore, that the world is in the same state of ignorance.

Amalfi is proud of having been the home of the inventor of the compass. I do not know what town boasts of my American friend as a citizen. – London Truth (Vermont Journal (Windsor, VT), November 1, 1890).

Dr. Livingston, I presume?


Ordnance Survey. (2011, August 22). Forgotten Your Compass? Use the Sun to Navigate. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 2). Flavio Gioja. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 20). Henry Morton Stanley. Retrieved from

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