A Place to Hang Your Coat in the Sky

One of the joys of observing God’s placement of stars is to find asterisms  or identifiable patterns. The patterns are usually named after some object or thing that is commonly known. The Coat Hangar Cluster, which can be found in the vicinity of sky between Altair and the Albireo (the base of Cygnus or the Northern Cross) is a modern asterism.

Since the coat hangar is a relatively recent invention (probably in the later 1800s), a pattern of stars that looks like one would not have attracted attention until a coat hangar shape was common. Further, optical design in those days was pressing for higher magnification with refractors that were long and skinny–not the type of instrument that sees a wide field (several degrees). This little beauty has to be seen with a relatively wide field and low magnification. With my 16 power binoculars, it nearly fills the field of view. 7 or 8 power binoculars actually do a better job putting the cluster in a context of sky.

Binoculars did not really become common things to own until the 20th century which suggests, again, that this delightful coat-hangar-pattern of stars is truly modern when compared to a much longer history of observing the heavens.

When you look at the sketch, then try to find it yourself! In Northern mid latitudes it is an easy area to observe in the high western sky in the early evenings. With 7 or 8 power binocular and small lenses, you may find it hard to see the second fainter line of stars that is parallel to the base of the hangar, but they are a noticeable part of the whole picture for me. Most star maps made for low power telescopes or binoculars show the Coat Hangar cluster. It stands out because the area of sky where it is located is a little less busy than the neighboring regions. Your view in a binocular will have up/down reversed compared to my pencil sketch because I was using a reflecting window with the binocular.

The cluster reminds me of a simple scripture in Ecclesiastes: ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ [Ec 1:9]. While the cluster’s shape relates to today’s observers with a modern connotation (a hangar), the stars were created and placed on Day 4 of creation (Genesis 1:14-19). As stories and pictures often were assigned to parts of star patterns many centuries ago, this particular pattern recognition scheme is much newer.

So consider what is old and new, what has changed and what has not. This “modern” cluster reminds me that I discover things (and am delighted to do so), but they were truly already there. The same principle can be considered relative to wrong doing or sin. People are shocked at someone’s wrong doing or moral failure, but fail to remember that those failures have been repeated many times since the fall of man. That is precisely why God states that “we all, like sheep, have gone astray” [Is 53:6]. So we might discover someone’s sin or even admit to our own at times, but these “discoveries” are already well known by God. The patterns and clothing of our sins might change, like new asterisms get named after modern objects, but the wrong doing is no surprise to God just like His placement of stars is no surprise. He knows what we are made of and how we measure up against His holiness; He knows where all the stars are and has named them (Isaiah 40:26, Psalm 147:4]. We are the ones that have to ‘discover’ them–much like we ‘discover’ that we sin, but neither the stars or our sin surprises God. Our wrong doing, nevertheless, is a useful tool to drive us to find a solution to our moral dilemma (we all fail). That Solution is Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our sins and the long-standing pattern of sin that we repeat through the ages. Like a a new observer might discover some stars that are named after a modern object yet were present a long time ago, so a man modern man  might discover Jesus for himself, but the Good News is old–just waiting for each of us to discover it for ourselves.

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