Many people enjoy stargazing without ever knowing that those twinkling dots in the sky hold stories and legends from cultures around the world.
Avery Greene, a Lawrence University sophomore from Edina, Minnesota, wants to share those stories, particularly those that are important to her fellow Lawrentians. She spent the summer on a research project called Celestial Histories, under the guidance of Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, and is now creating an oral history of astronomy and of personal connections to the night sky. She’s building a website that will hold her research and the celestial stories shared by students, faculty, and staff at Lawrence.
A chemistry and history double major, Greene became interested in pursuing this project after hearing about one of Pickett’s astronomy classes, where students discussed different interpretations of constellations and stars. She had previously taken a historiography class that involved studying oral histories and learned how to create an exhibit in a narrative format. She had already taken numerous physics classes and felt ready to jump into the celestial research.
“I was able to take my education and my interests and put them together for this project,” Greene said.
She describes Celestial Histories as a collection of stories, traditions, and experiences of the night sky that people in the Lawrence community have shared with her. By collecting these different tales and legends, Greene is able to portray how students can celebrate different cultures in various forms — even in the sky.
“It’s a way that we can walk with other cultures, not only to a space where we’re acknowledging other cultures, but kind of creating a community centered around all these things that we have in common,” Greene said.
One such story that Greene pieced together is about the constellation Taurus. Often referred to as Taurus the Bull, one part of the constellation consists of a cluster of seven stars called the Pleiades. It might look familiar, Greene said, if you think of the Subaru logo. In Japanese, subaru means “united” or “gather together,” so when the Subaru Corp. was founded in 1953, its leaders adopted a logo with the united stars. One reason there are only six stars in the logo instead of seven is because the seventh star is not always visible to the naked eye.
The process for gathering these stories and experiences was twofold for Greene. Half of the project was spent researching and gathering historical information on her own, and the other half was spent interviewing people for their interpretations and accounts with the night sky.
Greene chose to focus her research within the demographics and populations that are represented at Lawrence so that her project would be more personal to the Lawrence community.
She reached out via social media to spread the word about her project, inviting Lawrentians to come forward with their stories. Now she’s creating a website so that people can experience for themselves the many traditions and legends connected with certain constellations.
Throughout her progress with Celestial Histories, Greene said Pickett’s guidance and support has been instrumental in keeping the project moving forward. Pickett provided the initial idea and a general outline of what she was looking for and continued to offer feedback at every stage of the project.
“She has an insane knowledge base of the actual sky, so she’s been a really good reference for me to check that what I’m actually saying is the right star,” Greene said.
Pickett had nothing but praise for Greene’s work.
“She put together the surveys, conducted the interviews, put together the website and archival access—and got us both IRB (Institutional Review Board) certified; she’s done an amazing job, and I am so proud of her,” Pickett said.
Greene aims for Celestial Histories to be an ongoing project. She is excited to continue interviewing students about their personal connection with the night sky. Both she and Pickett want it to be something that other students can continue after Greene graduates.
“I have learned so much,” Greene said. “I got to dig into something that I hadn’t really ever experienced before.”
Class Year: 2024
Majors: Chemistry, History
Hometown: Edina, Minn.