Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Tonight you can go outside and see the constellation Bootes. It is really easy to find if you can find the big dipper. There is a common saying with backyard astronomers, "Arc to Arcturus." What that means is you follow the arc that the handle of the big dipper to the next bright star. That is Arcturus. Arcturus is the bottom of the constellation and you should be able to see the kite-like shape it takes.

Arcturus is actually the fourth brightest star in the night sky. There is a comet that went through the constellation (from our point of view) and left a debris trail that we keep passing through. This makes for shooting stars. We are passing through it right now and the best opportunity to see shooting stars is all this week the the 26th being the absolute best. Don't get me wrong, you won't be going outside and seeing a hail of shooting stars, but your chances of seeing one is greater.

While you are spending time outside hoping to glimpse a shooting star, you can show off your mythology knowledge to whoever is with you by telling them where the constellation Bootes originates. There are some conflicting tales here. One story, as told by Ovid in Metamorphoses is that Callisto is a woman who was changed into a bear. Her son, Arkas, did not know and was trying to hunt her. Zeus, in a rare moment of pity, saves them by turning them into stars, Callisto becoming Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Arkas becoming Bootes.

Catasterimi, by Eratosthenes of Cyrene, says that Arkas was the son of Lykaon. Lykaon killed him and served him up as dinner to Zeus to see if the he really is omnipotent. Zeus punishes Lykaon and sets Arkas in the stars as Bootes. Personally, I don't like this story for Bootes. There is a similar story for Tantalus.Yet another story says that Bootes is modeled after the son of Demeter. He invented the plow (sometimes the big dipper is referred to as the Plow) and so was given immortality in the stars.

Happy viewing!


Anonymous said...

I'm in Ecuador now and I just found the Big Dipper, but I'm afraid I'm bad at constellations and Bootes continues to evade me. I love the constellations and know their stories, but I'm afraid my city-girl roots show all too clearly in my inability to identify the patterns in the night sky.

I love the story of Callisto, though. I had some kids in my program rewrite it to reflect the story THEY thought would make more sense.

日月神教-向左使 said...