Monday, January 21, 2013

Orion Myth Part I

Orion the Mighty Hunter is one of the most beloved and easiest to recognize constellations in the night sky. Cold, crisp winter nights are the best time to observe the "belted one" in the southern sky. Over the course of the next few weeks I'll share some Greek myths that show Orion does not stand alone in the winter sky.  If you use your ancient Greek imagination when looking at the stars, you may see him surrounded by a bull with seven women on its back, while two hunting dogs chase unicorn and a bunny rabbit down by the river... SAY WHAT!

Let's start with Orion. According to Greek myths he was a big, strong, tough guy. One day he was out hunting. When he took a break on this hilltop, he beheld a sight that took his breath away. There were seven women dancing in a clearing while a huge crowd cheered them on. These were the Seven Sisters, or the Pleiades. Orion fell in love... with all of them.

Now, Orion was very brave in battle but not very courageous when it came to talking to women. So he needed to work up all his courage just to even speak to the sisters. One day he finally met them and asked for their 14 hands in marriage. The sisters were so outraged that they rejected him and strode away. Orion didn't know much about dating, but he heard somewhere that women respond well to a man who is persistent. So he kept meeting the sisters at awkward times and asking them again and again to marry him. After a week of this, the sisters couldn't take it anymore. They asked for divine intervention. The gods listened and promptly turned the Pleiades into doves. They immediately flew away from Orion - as fast as they could - and headed higher and higher into the sky. Eventually they decided to stay in the heavens and became stars.

You can find the Pleiades high in the south after sunset. We'll learn more the rest of the story in Part II. So tune in!

Monday, January 7, 2013


It's time to talk with Alan Alda.  I interviewed the actor, director, science TV show host, and now Science Communicator for WVXU 91.7 FM in a new segment called "Looking Up." 

Last year Mr. Alda issued a challenge: Come up with a description of a "flame" that would make sense to an 11-year old.  His goal was to get scientists thinking about how to communicate their subject material to a general audience.  This is something Alda is passionate about and led him to found the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.  He still has the same enthusiasm for science as that 11-year old who voraciously wanted to know what a flame was.  The new challenge for us in 2013: describe the concept of TIME.

He mentioned that scientists don't necessarily need to be actors to get their message across.  But it made me think that sometimes we too often play the role of "scientist" that was handed down to us - stuffy, know-it-all types.  I think that scientists of today need to create a new persona, to be more accessible and approachable with our message and vocabulary.  Maybe an actor can help us with that.

You can listen to the interview at: 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Seven Sisters in Other Cultures

Most myths relate the Seven Sisters star cluster to young maidens or boys playing, dancing, and just being young and wild. "Like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a sliver braid."

In Chinese mythology they were the "Seven Sisters of Industry"

Australians considered them to be young girls playing music for the dancing young men (the stars in Orion's belt).

Various Native American legend equate them with seven young men guarding the holy seed of agriculture and seven young children told to stop all their dancing.

In Borneo they were a mother hen and six chicks

And in early Christian lore they were the six daughters and wife of the baker who gave Christ bread when he was hungry.

This association with youth is very interesting in that astronomers now consider them young, hot stars. They are large, fiery blue stars burning through their fuel very rapidly and have a quick, bad end - burning the candle at both ends so to speak. What is it about these stars that make them appear so youthful to the ancients?