Have you noticed the smiling crescent moon and the earthshine? That’s when you can see the rest of the moon as a dark disk. That pale glow on the unlit part of the crescent moon is light reflected from Earth. Saturday, the moon and Mars will have a close approach.
And when we last did some stargazing, the Big Dipper was in the east looking like a question mark, now it’s directly overhead and has turned 45-degrees and is sideways, compared to the question mark it first was. We have always used the cup end of the Big Dipper to find things, this time we’re going to use the very tip of the handle. If we go back to the sideways question mark reference, this is the bottom of the question mark. This star in the constellation is called Alkaid. If you look for the next brightest star after it should be Arcturus.
Arcturus is the third brightest star in the sky, according to Constellation-Guide.com. It is also part of the constellation called Boötes. The constellation’s name comes from the Greek word Βοώτης, Boōtēs, which means ox driver, plowman or herdsman. Each O is pronounced separately and stress is placed on the second syllable. It was first catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. The name of this constellation might sound familiar because there are three meteor showers associated with it: the January Boötids (which was written about in January), the June Boötids and the Quadrantids.
As its Greek meaning indicates, in mythology, Boötes is traditionally depicted as a herdsman with two hunting dogs on a leash and a club in his other hand. In the sky, Boötes follows Ursa Major around the pole. In one story, the constellation represents a ploughman driving the oxen in the Ursa Major constellation, followed by his two dogs, Asterion and Chara (represented by the constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs). The ploughman’s oxen are tied to the polar axis and their movement keeps the skies in constant rotation, as the Big and Little dippers.
Most commonly, Boötes is taken to represent Arcas, son of Zeus and Callisto, daughter of the Arcadian King Lycaon. Arcas was brought up by his grandfather, the king, who one day decided to test Zeus by serving him his own son for a meal. Zeus, however, saw through Lycaon’s intentions, transformed the cruel king into a wolf, killed all his sons with thunderbolts and brought Arcas back to life.
Zeus’ wife Hera, having heard of her husband’s infidelity, transformed Callisto into a bear. Callisto roamed the woods until years later she met her son, who was now grown up. Arcas didn’t recognize his mother and began to chase her. Callisto hid herself in a temple, where he couldn’t hurt her without risking being convicted to death for defiling a sacred place. To avoid a tragedy, Zeus placed both of them in the sky; Callisto as Ursa Major and Arcas as Boötes.
Ursa Major may sound familiar because the Big Dipper is an asterism in the constellation Ursa Major also known as the Great Bear. Asterisms are prominent groups of stars that form patterns but are smaller than, or even part of, a constellation, according to Space.com.
In another story, Boötes is taken to represent Icarius, a grape grower who once invited Dionysus to visit his vineyards. The god was so impressed that he gave Icarius the secret of making wine. Icarius followed the recipe and enjoyed the beverage so much that he invited all his friends to try it. They, however, enjoyed it a bit too much and, when they woke up the next day with bad hangovers, they assumed Icarius had tried to poison them. Angry, they decided to murder him in his sleep. Dionysus was saddened by the death of his friend and decided to place Icarius among the stars. In another myth, Boötes is credited for inventing the plough, which prompted the goddess Ceres to place him in the heavens.
Look Up appears in the weekend edition. If you have any astronomical questions or facts you’d like to share email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Look Up.”