Sunday, August 17, 2014

For the love of the stars

image: Milky Way over the San Rafael Desert, Utah (United States), Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post linked to explanations of over fifty star myths from cultures around the world (and there are many more cultures whose star myths could also be discussed). In order to truly enjoy the study of star myths and astro-theology, however, it is best to actually get outside and observe the gorgeous stars in their natural setting, if at all possible.

Finding the various constellations of our night sky may seem intimidating at first, but it doesn't have to be. With the right guides and some practice, you will absolutely be able to do it. Of course, getting to a place that is away from the light pollution found around most large cities may be necessary in order to achieve satisfactory views of the stars and planets. You'll also want to become aware of the general cycle of the moon, since the best times to look at stars are when the moon is less dominant in the night sky -- the moon tends to drown out the stars during the days on either side of the full moon (see discussions here, here, here, here, and here for some descriptions of the monthly lunar cycle).

If you are able to schedule even a few minutes each night at about the same time (perhaps to walk the dog through the neighborhood, after the sun has set and the sky has darkened), this may be the very best way to become familiar with the constellations. Unless you have access to an observation point with good 360-degree views, taking a short walk each night may be the best way to get views of all the different directions and in doing so becoming familiar with the stars found in the different parts of the sky and the different cardinal directions and elevations. Also, observing at the same general time each evening will enable you to begin to notice the gradual changes in the sky as the earth progresses around its orbital path each year.

After a while, the stars and constellations and planets will begin to become like familiar friends. At that point, you may find that you look forward to seeing them each night and don't want to miss your appointment with them each evening!

The very fact that the ancient sacred traditions of virtually every single culture on our planet were based upon a common system of celestial metaphor in which the motions of the constellations (especially the zodiac constellations) and the planets play a central role should tell us that their motions are extraordinarily important to human existence. Becoming more familiar with their location and cycles is an important way to connect with our ancient heritage, and to connect with the universe of which we ourselves are a part.

Many previous posts have discussed individual constellations and significant stars, often with some tips on how to find them, and sometimes with a discussion of some of the star-myths in which those constellations play a role. In order to make it easier to locate all of those previous discussions of constellations, they are listed below (for the first time in one place!) in alphabetical order by constellation, asterism, or star.

One other tip (which has been repeated quite frequently in previous posts) concerns the "system" you use to "draw the lines" in your mind's eye as you look at the constellations. I believe that the system offered by well-known author H. A. Rey is far superior to any other system I have seen, and for numerous reasons. You can find his system illustrated (along with commentary on locating each constellation) in his outstanding book The Stars: A New Way to See Them (first published in 1952 and updated several times since then). He also wrote a children's version of the same book, which is also discussed and linked in the same previous post.

Before going to the list, take a look at the beautiful photograph above of the Milky Way rising up from the southern horizon in between Scorpio (on the right, to the west as we look south) and Sagittarius (on the left, to the east as we look south). If the image above isn't large enough for you, simply click the link in the previous sentence for a bigger image. You should be able to spot both Scorpio and Sagittarius as well as the beautiful arc of the Southern Crown (Corona Australis) in the photograph, which was taken in the northern hemisphere location of the San Rafael Desert in the western United States (state of Utah). If you want to make them "jump out" of the image a bit more, simply squint your eyes as you look at it, which will have the effect of filtering out some of the fainter stars, and cause the outlines of Scorpio, Sagittarius and the Southern Crown to really stand out.  

At the bottom of the list of the constellations and asterisms and stars you will find another version of the same photograph, with labels and arrows indicating Scorpio, Sagittarius, and the Southern Crown.

Here's the list of constellations, asterisms, and stars that have been featured in blog posts so far (if you are using a desktop or laptop, you should be able to "hover" your mouse over the various links and wait just a second to see the name of the post that is linked):

ALDEBARAN [see here, here, here, and here]
ALGOL [here]
ALSHAIN [here]
ALTAIR [see here, here, here, here, and here]
ANTARES [see here, here, and here]
AQUARIUS (the Water Bearer) [see here, here, here, and here]
AQUILA (the Eagle) [see herehere, herehereherehere, and here]
ARA (the Altar) [here]
ARCTURUS [see here, here, here, and here]
ARIES (the Ram) [here]
ARGO NAVIS (the Ship Argo) [see here and here]
AURIGA (the Charioteer) [see here, here, here, and here]
BEEHIVE [see here, here, and here]
BERENICE'S HAIR (Latin: Coma Berenices) [here]
BIG DIPPER (part of Ursa Major) [see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]
BOOTES (the Herdsman) [see here, here, here, here, and here]
CANCER (the Crab) [see here, here, herehere, and here]
CANIS MAJOR (the Big Dog) [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
CANIS MINOR (the Little Dog) [see here and here]
CAPELLA [see here, here, here, and here]
CAPRICORN (the Goat) [see here, here and here]
CASSIOPEIA [see here, here, here, here, and here]
CAT'S EYES [here]
COLUMBA (the Dove) [here]
CORONA AUSTRALIS (Southern Crown) [here]
CORONA BOREALIS (Northern Crown) [see here, here, and here]
CORVUS (the Crow) [see here, here, here, and here]
CRATER (the Cup) [see here and here]
CYGNUS (the Swan) [see here, here, here, and here]
DELPHINUS (the Dolphin) [here]
DENEB [see herehere, and here]
DENEBOLA [see here, here, and here]
DRACO (the Dragon) [here]
GEMINI (the Twins) [see here, here, here, here, here, here, hereherehere, and here]
GREAT SQUARE [see here, here, here, and here]
HYADES [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
HYDRA [see here, here, here, and here]
LEPUS (the Hare) [see here, here, and here]
LEO (the Lion) [see here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]
LIBRA (the Scales) [see here and here]
LYRA (the Lyre) [see here and here]
PEGASUS [see herehereherehere, and here]
PERSEUS [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
PISCIS AUSTRINUS (Southern Fish) [see here and here]
PISCES (the Fishes) [see here and here]
PLEIADES [see here, herehere, herehere, here, here, here, and here]
POINTERS [see here, here, and here]
POLARIS [see here, herehere, hereherehere, and here]
PROCYON [see here, here and here]
REGULUS [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
SAGITTA (the Arrow) [see here and here]
SAGITTARIUS (the Archer) [see here, herehere, here, here, here, here, and here]
SCORPIO (the Scorpion) [see here, herehere, herehereherehere, and here]
SIRIUS [see hereherehereherehere, and here]
SOUTHERN CROSS [see here and here]
SPICA [see here, here, here, here, here, herehere, and here]
TARAZED [here]
TAURUS (the Bull) [see hereherehere, here, here, hereherehereherehereherehere, and here]
THUBAN [see here, here, and here]
URSA MAJOR (the Big Bear) [see here, here, here, and here]
URSA MINOR (the Little Bear) [see here and here]
VEGA [see here and here]
VIRGO (the Virgin) [see here, herehere, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, and here]

And now, here's the same image from the top of the post, with a few arrows to help you see the Scorpion, the Southern Crown, and the "teapot" / "locust" portion of Sagittarius: