Archive for the ‘Mythology’ Category

04/10/2018 – Ephemeris – How Boötes and the Great Bear got into the sky

April 10, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, April 10th. The Sun will rise at 7:07. It’ll be up for 13 hours and 14 minutes, setting at 8:21. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 5:14 tomorrow morning.

Appearing mid way up the sky in the east at 10 p.m. is the kite shaped constellation of Boötes the herdsman. The bright star Arcturus is at the bottom-right of the kite, pointed to by the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper, above it. In one Greek myth Boötes represents a young hunter named Arcas, son of Callisto, a beautiful young lady who had the misfortune of being loved by Zeus the chief of the Greek gods. Zeus’ wife Hera, found out about the affair, and since she couldn’t punish Zeus, turned the poor woman into an ugly bear. Arcas, unaware of the events surrounding his mother’s disappearance in his youth was about to kill the bear when Zeus intervened and placed them both in the sky to save her. To this day Boötes continues to chase the great bear Ursa Major around the pole of the sky each night.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Arcas and Callisto woodcut

Arcas about to slay the bear by the 17th century artist Baur. Source: University of Virginia Electronic Text Center

Arcas and Callisto

Bootes and Ursa Major aka Arcas chasing Callisto around the pole of the sky. Created using Stellarium.


03/05/2018 – Ephemeris – Spring is coming: Leo is rising

March 5, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, March 5th. The Sun will rise at 7:13. It’ll be up for 11 hours and 22 minutes, setting at 6:35. The Moon, half way from full to last quarter, will rise at 10:53 this evening.

The constellation Leo the lion is now rising in the east at 9 pm. It’s below and left of the Big Dipper higher up in the east-northeast. Leo is marked by two sets of easily recognizable stars. The front of him is a backward question mark of stars, also known as the Sickle that mark his head and mane, along with the front part of his body. Regulus is the star at the bottom of that backwards question mark. It’s the Little King Star. The hind end of him is a triangle of stars ending with another bright star, but not as bright as Regulus. It’s Denebola which means Lion’s tail. It is thought when the Sun was in this constellation long ago that the lions were driven by the heat to quench their thirst in the Nile river. Ancients physicians thought medicines were poison when the Sun was here also.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


The constellation Leo animation

The constellation Leo animation. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Algieba is a binary star, which should be able to be split with any good telescope.  The magnitude 2.4 and 3.6 components are separated by 4.6 arc seconds.  Binary stars are one type of object that benefit from using high power to resolve.  The stars are very close in temperature, so each appears a yellow-orange color offering no color contrast.

01/16/2018 – Ephemeris – More thoughts about Orion and the Wintermaker

January 16, 2018 1 comment

Ephemeris for Tuesday, January 16th. The Sun will rise at 8:15. It’ll be up for 9 hours and 13 minutes, setting at 5:29. The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

We come back to the central constellation of the winter sky Orion the hunter, now in the southeast at 9 p.m. with his three stars of his belt in a straight line, with his upper shoulder stars above and knees below. In one Greek story he was killed by the sting of a scorpion so the gods made sure the rising of the constellation Scorpius would chase him out of the sky to the west. To the Greeks he was a hapless hero. Orion is mentioned in the Bible in the book of Job. The name for Orion in Hebrew is Kesil, meaning “Fool”. To the native peoples around the Great Lakes, the stars here are those of the Wintermaker, who stretches his arms from Aldebaran in Taurus to Procyon in Canis Minor. When he is in the evening sky it is indeed winter.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


As the scorpion approaches Orion makes a hasty exit

When the scorpion (Scorpius) crawls over the southeastern horizon, Orion takes a powder to the west. This is about 5 a.m. in mid January. Created using Stellarium.

Orion-Wintermaker finder animation

Orion-Wintermaker finder animation for 9 p.m., January 16. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

01/12/2018 – Ephemeris – A look at Gemini the very unusual twins

January 12, 2018 1 comment

Ephemeris for Friday, January 12th. The Sun will rise at 8:18. It’ll be up for 9 hours and 6 minutes, setting at 5:24. The Moon, half way from last quarter to new, will rise at 5:16 tomorrow morning.

The constellation Gemini, the Twins is visible half way up the sky in the east at 9 p.m. The namesake stars of the two lads will be on the upper left edge of the constellation, nearly vertically aligned. Castor is above, while Pollux, a slightly brighter star is below it. Lines of stars from Castor and Pollux to the right delineate the lads. In Greek mythology Castor and Pollux were twins, and half brothers, Castor was fathered by a mere mortal, while Pollux was fathered by Zeus in the famous Leda and the swan affair. The brothers, however were inseparable, and when Castor was killed during the quest for the Golden Fleece, Pollux pleaded with Zeus to let him die also. Zeus granted his wish, so they both appear in the sky together forever.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.



Gemini as it should appear at 9 p.m., January 12, 2018. Created using Stellarium.

Gemini with Castor and Pollux

Gemini with Castor and Pollux. A closeup with a different way to link the stars with constellation art.  Created with Stellarium.

01/08/2018 – Ephemeris – The Pleiades in Greek myth

January 8, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, January 8th. The Sun will rise at 8:19. It’ll be up for 9 hours and 1 minute, setting at 5:20. The Moon, at last quarter today, will rise at 1:17 tomorrow morning.

The large and bright constellation of Orion is now in the southeast at 9 p.m. It is seen as an upright rectangle of bright stars, with a belt of three stars in the center. Orion is a minor character in Greek mythology. Orion was the son of Neptune, and was a hunter. He had an ill-fated romance with Merope, whose father King Oenopion, had him blinded. After having his sight restored, Orion became a companion of Diana goddess of the hunt and they wanted to marry. Apollo, Diana’s brother disapproved of Orion also and was able to trick Diana into accidentally killing Orion with an arrow. The heart-broken Diana then placed Orion in the sky with his hunting dogs, were we see him to this day.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Hyades and Pleiades

The Pleiades (right) and the Hyades (left) in this photograph I took January 4, 2016.

Named Pleiads

The named stars of the Pleiades. This is also showing more stars than can be seen with the naked eye. This is the number of stars that can be seen in binoculars, which is the best way to observe them. Most telescopes are offer too much magnification to fit all the stars in. A thirty power wide-angle eyepiece can just fit all the stars in. Created using Stellarium.

12/15/2017 – Ephemeris – Taurus, Bullish on Winter

December 15, 2017 1 comment

Note:  The title of this post I’ve taken from an article I wrote for the December 1999 issue of the Stellar Sentinel, the monthly newsletter of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society, which I will reprint with some tweaks, as the addendum to this post.  Winter will arrive in six days, though I’m not particularly bullish on it, but it fits the constellation I’m talking about today.

Ephemeris for Friday, December 15th. The Sun will rise at 8:12. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 50 minutes, setting at 5:02. The Moon, 3 days before new, will rise at 6:25 tomorrow morning.

Low in the east-southeast at 9 p.m. is the constellation of Orion the giant hunter. Above him is Taurus the bull. His face is a letter V shape of stars lying on its side with the bright orange-red star Aldebaran at the bottom tip of the V as its angry blood-shot eye. Orion is depicted in the sky facing him with club in one hand and a shield in the other the approaching and in some depictions charging Taurus. The V of stars is a star cluster called the Hyades. The Pleiades are in his shoulder above. Taurus, in Greek mythology, was the guise the god Zeus when he carried off the maiden Europa. Europa’s still with him, sort of, as the intriguing satellite with a buried ocean orbiting Zeus’ Roman equivalent the planet Jupiter.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Taurus and Orion

Three views of Taurus the bull and Orion the hunter for about  p.m. in December.

Hyades and Pleiades

The Hyades (lower left) and the Pleiades (upper right). My photograph from many years ago BD (Before Digital).

The first constellation of winter to appear is probably a toss-up between Auriga the charioteer and Taurus the Bull. Auriga never quite disappears, or at least Capella its brightest star is circumpolar and never quite sets here in Northern Michigan. But Auriga sneaks up slowly in the northeast. Taurus on the other hand makes a grand entrance on autumn evenings preceded by the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters star cluster.

Taurus’ brightest star is Aldebaran, the bull’s angry bloodshot eye. It is at the left tip of a letter V of stars that is the bull’s face. Above the V are single stars that form the tips of its very long horns. Other stars below form the front legs of this beast. That’s it. Only the front part of the bull appears in the sky. In its shoulder are the Pleiades.

According to Greek mythology Taurus represents the god Zeus, the Roman Jupiter, who, in the disguise of a bull abducted the beautiful maiden Europa. This isn’t the only celestial disguise of Zeus. Cygnus is the disguise of Zeus in the famous Leda and the swan affair.

The Pleiades and the Hyades, the V-shaped star cluster of Taurus’ head also have their places in Greek Mythology. The Hyades and Pleiades are half sisters of each other who share Atlas as their father. But it is the Pleiades which are more prominent and have more stories about them. It is the Pleiades that are pursued by Orion the hunter, the central constellation of winter. And since the Pleiades are west of Orion it does appear that Orion continues to chase them around and around the sky daily. To the Kiowa Indians the Pleiades were also young maidens. As the story goes they were being chased by a large bear. The Great Spirit placed them on what we know today as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to keep them out of reach of the bear. It is said that even today the sides of this tower show the scars of the bear’s claws. Devil’s Tower was the prominent landmark in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. To the Anishinaabek native peoples around here the Pleiades is the “Hole in the Sky” or the seven sweating stones that are heated for the sweat lodge ceremony.

What do we know about Taurus today? Aldebaran is an orangish giant star which lies at a distance of 65 light years. It doesn’t belong to the Hyades, which is about 151 light years away. Aldebaran’s diameter is 40 times the Sun’s, about the diameter as the orbit of Mercury. It’s only 1.7 times tha mass of the Sun. Aldebaran shines at 153 times the Sun’s output.

Aldebaran appears to be part of the Hyades cluster, but it is less than half the distance to this most important star cluster. Though less prominent as the Pleiades, the Hyades is the most important star cluster in the heavens. The reason is because the Hyades was until recently the only star cluster close enough to get an accurate distance measurement by direct means. That direct means is parallax, measuring the shift of the star’s position in the sky due to the earth’s changing position in orbit of the Sun. The Hipparcos satellite has been refining these parallaxes over the past few years. Its measurement of the distance of the Hyades cluster is 151 light years give or take a bit less than a light year. The Hyades distance is the basis for all more distant measurements to the ends of the known universe.

The Hyades is a good binocular object with over 100 stars visible. The cluster actually overflows the binocular’s field of view. This cluster is also known as the Taurus Moving Cluster because its stars are receding towards a point northeast of Orion’s Betelgeuse.

Of course the splashiest part of Taurus is the Pleiades. For people with good vision 6 or more stars can be seen. I can see 4 or 5 stars and fuzz, which are unresolved stars. Many, who see the Pleiades for the first time, think the tiny pattern of stars is the Little Dipper. The stars do indeed look like a tiny dipper, with a nice bowl and a sawed off handle. And that’s what I call it: the Tiny Dipper. The big surprise of the Hipparcos distance measurements is the distance of the Pleiades. The generally accepted distance was about 410 light years. Hipparcos measured 375 light years. This means that the stars of the Pleiades are somewhat dimmer than believed before. Pleiades prior measurement was based on photometric or brightness measurements with the stars of the Hyades and other stars of the same type and known brightness and distance. So it turns out in the case of the Pleiades that the former measurements weren’t as accurate as thought, and means we have more to understand about stellar evolution as it relates to star brightness. Or perhaps Hipparcos is wrong. And interesting debate and more measurements are sure to follow.

The age of the Pleiades is thought to be around 100 million years, young compared to the Sun’s 4.6 billion years. Long exposure photographs and some telescopes can still spot the remaining wisp’s of the nebulae they were born from. The material is probably dust simply reflecting the light of the stars in the cluster.

Taurus is a great constellation to scan with a pair of binoculars.

10/17/2017 – Ephemeris – The Fisher paints the autumn leaves red

October 17, 2017 1 comment

Ephemeris for Tuesday, October 17th. The Sun will rise at 8:00. It’ll be up for 10 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 6:54. The Moon, 2 days before new, will rise at 6:35 tomorrow morning.

This morning, if it’s clear the red planet Mars will appear just to the right of the thin crescent Moon. Mars isn’t the only thing that’s red now. So are the maple leaves as we advance into autumn. The native Anishinaabek peoples have a story about how that came to be. Of how a magical weasel-like creature called the Fisher or Ojiig brought summer to the Earth from Skyland. For his trouble he was shot with an arrow in his only vulnerable spot, the tip of his tail. As he fell to Earth the Great Spirit, Manitou caught him and placed him in the sky where we see the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and the Big Dipper. Every autumn we see his tail swoop down to the ground where his tail paints the leaves red with his blood.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


The Moon and the morning planets this morning

The Mon with the morning planets

The Moon and Mars at 6:30 this morning October 17, 2017. Click on image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium.

At 00:21 UTC on the 18th Venus will be south of the Moon.  It will be visible from Asia.

The Fisher (Ojiig) paints the trees with the autumn colors

Autumn colors

Autumn colors. My image.

Fisher brushing his tail along the horizon

An animation of Fisher brushing his tail along the horizon on autumn nights. Click on image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium.

The constellation art is part of the latest versions of Stellarium. Ojibwe (Anishinaabek) constellation art by Annette S Lee and William Wilson from Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide, ISBN 978-0-615-98678-4.

See the version of the story I learned:  The story of the Fisher Star.

There are other variations of the story, and other adventures of the Fisher.  Perform an Internet search for: Fisher or Fisher Star or Ojiig.