What Star Augur Etraeus Got Wrong
Thoughts from an Astronomy Gamer
THE STAR AUGUR…
Blizzard’s Warcraft series, and all the books, merchandise, and spinoffs that includes, is one of the most successful franchises in gaming history. While playing online recently, I came across an encounter that is as visually stunning as it is thought-provoking. Star Augur Etraeus in the Nighthold raid grants players a glimpse of Azeroth’s night skies through his interactive planetarium, exposing players to the stars and the void above.
… WAS MISINFORMED
During the encounter, Etraeus shouts several cryptic taunts at the players, but the one that stands out most is, “As the stars wax, so your lives wane!” I paused. I considered.
The “waxing” and “waning” of stars sounds nice and poetic, but it isn’t quite right.
WHAT’S WAXING AND WANING, THEN?
The stars in our sky don’t wax or wane, no matter where the Earth is in its orbit around our Sun. Only the moon waxes and wanes. That’s what gives us the phases of the moon that we see each month, from tiny, slim crescents to a full, bright sphere that lights up the night. Just one side of the moon is illuminated by the Sun at any one time and, due to tidal locking forces, just one side of the moon ever faces the Earth. These sides aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t interchangeable in conversation, either. Picture the Earth-Moon-Sun system like this:
When the moon is between the Earth and the Sun, we get a new moon – one that is dark – because the side opposite ours is lit up. As the moon continues to move around so that the Earth is between the moon and the Sun, the Sun lights up more of the side that is visible to us on Earth. This is what “waxing” is, and the moon looks like it’s growing in width until it reaches the full moon phase, during which werewolves wreak havoc and teenagers sneak out.
“Waning” is the fading of the moon as we see it. Slivers of the moon slip away after a full moon, night after night, until the moon fades back into a new moon and once again finds itself between the Earth and the Sun. Then, the lunar cycle starts over
It’s difficult to remember which phrase means the visible moon is growing and which one means the visible moon is shrinking, partly because a lot of people associate “waxing” with hair removal. You can think of earwax, and how it collects over time. “Waning” often refers to something that’s fading or wavering, or losing its strength.
On a closing note, Astraeus is the figure from Greek mythology who is the Titan of dusk, stars, planets, and astrology. Hence, “Star Augur Etraeus.” We’re onto you, Blizzard. We know where you get your names.
In-game image credit website (Copyright Blizzard Entertainment).
Sun, Earth, Moon, and Stars images from NASA website.