Friday, August 23, 2013


August evenings are the best time to find part of this constellation low in the southern skies.  Sagittarius represents Chiron the Centaur, who is half man, half horse. Chiron was a great teacher of just about everyone in ancient Greece including Hercules.

Just after sunset you should see medium-bright stars that resemble a tea pot or coffee pot.  That's his body, out-stretched arm, bow and arrow.  Let you imagination figure that one out!

The constellation can be broken up into two smaller sections. The four stars that make up the very tiny dipper are also called the Milk Dipper because they lie in a thick patch of the Milky Way. Unfortunately, we have to go way out in the country to see this dipper scooping up milk. When you peer at Sagittarius, you are looking at the center of our galaxy. Imagine being in the center of the Milky Way - there would be so many stars nearby that night might be as bright as day.  And you might have to watch out for black holes!

The other part of Sagittarius is his bow and arrow. Three stars curve to form the bow and one sticks out to the right forming the arrow. Look at what he’s aiming that arrow at! It is aimed directly at the Scorpion’s heart, the red star Antares. But I still think the whole thing looks more like a coffee pot than a Centaur.

Try to find Sagittarius’ second brightest star. It was named Nunki about 5000 years ago by the Sumerians, but today we have no idea what Nunki means. Since the translation is lost to history you should invent your own for this blue-white, mystery star.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hercules Part II

The ancient Sumerians who began studying and charting the heavens thousands of years ago thought this kneeling figure represented Gilgamesh, their version of Superman. The epic of Gilgamesh the warrior is one of the oldest surviving texts.

The Greeks had a Superman of their own named Hercules. Hercules started early. At only eight months of age, he strangled two serpents that tried to mess with his teddy bear. He was taught by the greatest teacher in Greece, Chiron the centaur. Chiron can be seen in the constellation Sagittarius low in the southern sky during the summer.

Hercules (or Heracles in Greek) was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Alcmene. His name was a slap in the face to Zeus' wife Hera (Heracles means, "Glory of Hera"... ouch), and she did everything she could to make young Herc pay. Hera drove him stark raving mad - mad enough to kill his wife and kids. As punishment Hercules was forced to do twelve labors for king Eurystheus. At the completion of these labors, Hercules would achieve immortality. But these labors were not like taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn. Hera made sure they were the most impossible things imaginable.

Hercules’ first job was to slay the terrible Neamean Lion represented by the constellation Leo (see Leo). Another labor involved the slaying of the fierce and deadly Hydra. Hercules was rewarded for his valor and obedience by the god Zeus and was taken up to heaven where he lived happily ever after shining down on us.

Adding to his legend, Hercules was also married four times (once after death).