Friday, May 10, 2013


You may have noticed a lone bright star in the east after sunset. This is Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes. This kite-shaped constellation first appears in the spring sky looking like a wide tie hanging from the invisible neck of an invisible businessman. Boötes is no yuppie bustling through traffic but a Herdsman, Bear-Driver, or Inventor of the Plow.

First let's talk about how to pronounce this constellation. It is a 3-syllable name; "Bo-oh-teez," not "Boots," and please never call him, "Booties."

One myth portrays Boötes as an inventive man who overcomes adversity. Once upon a time Bootes was walking through the woods - on his way to grandma’s house - when he was robbed by his brother. Not only that, when he returned home, he discovered that his good-for-nothing, thief-brother had taken possession of everything he owned. House. Land. Wife. Everything. Undaunted, Bootes finds a new place to live but is dead broke. He can’t rub one nickel together. As a poor farmer, he invents a plow that can be pulled by oxen. His invention spreads around the globe, and after patenting it, Bootes can afford anything. This story fits in extremely well with the old English view of the Big Dipper as a Big Plow. Boötes can be seen right behind the plow pushing it around the pole.

The easiest way to find Boötes is to find his brightest star, Arcturus. Nothing could be easier. First, find the handle of the Big Dipper and use it as a pointer. Follow the arc of the handle and continue this arc until you run into Arcturus. Remember the catchy saying, "Follow the arc to Arcturus," and you'll find Boötes.

This is Boötes as a Herdsman with his dogs. Next time I may tell you about the mop of hair under the dogs in this picture.