Thursday, February 9, 2012

Aries the Ram

Aries is a small, but easy to find zodiac constellation visible in the winter sky. The star picture only has 3 bright stars but they form a distinct obtuse triangle in the sky 25 degrees to the right (or west) of the Seven Sisters star cluster. And this year, the bright planet Jupiter is nearby (just down and to the left after sunset). The brightest star is named Hamal, the head of the sheep.

For such a tiny constellation, Aries has an extensive mythology. Part one occurs when a king, with a son named Phrixus and daughter named Helle, leaves his wife and remarries a mean and nasty woman. The new wife is jealous of the children and plans to sacrifice them to the gods. Talk about your wicked step-mothers! At the last moment their biological mother sends a magical, winged, golden ram down to fly them away to the east. Unfortunately the daughter falls off of the flying ram to her death in the Hellespont (named in her honor).

Phrixus lands safely and sacrifices the ram to Zeus (thanks O Flying Ram) and gives the golden fleece to another King named Aeetes (whose daughter he eventually marries). The King put the fleece under constant protection guarded by a fierce dragon that never slept. The stage was now set for a man named Jason to make an epic journey to steal this Golden Fleece.

To be continued…