The Ancient Tales

17 02 2010

There was once a time where every person across the world could look up and see the dark band of glowing clouds streaked across the sky that is our Milky Way Galaxy. It was not just a part of the sky that these people looked at every night. They knew instinctively that it was a part of their world. They knew that it was a part of where they came from.

For this reason, the stories of the constellations came about and became engraved as a portion of our culture lasting throughout the ages. The twinkling and mysterious objects above us needed an explanation and a way to better relate them to our everyday lives. These stories were part of a number of societies in early times, ranging all the way from the Aztec’s llama in the dark and dusty parts of the Milky Way seen in the Southern Hemisphere to the Greeks who saw Orion which is still one of the widest known constellations today. (The first picture below is one I took at the Mamalluca Public Observatory during new moon outside of Vicuña, Chile. If you look carefully you can see the dark constellation of the Llama. There is the llama’s “eye” at the top right in a dark patch. Then you can follow its neck down into its body and below that are the legs)

There are many different versions of the story of Orion so I highly recommend you investigate it for yourself. My favorite version is an oral tale that was told to me about the great love between Orion and the goddess Artemis. It all began with the goddess-huntress, Artemis, when she fell in love with her most trusted companion, the hunter Orion. However, Artemis was supposed to be the wild huntress untouched by man. For this reason, as she grew closer and closer to Orion Apollo took over as the protective big brother. He created the giant scorpion, Scorpius, and set it on Orion. No matter what Orion tried he could not kill the creature and in a last attempt to save his life he dove into the sea and tried to escape the monster. It followed him into the ocean and Apollo took the opportunity to question Artemis’ prowess with a bow. He challenged her by saying that he did not believe she could hit the tiny speck far below the Mount Olympus. As any sister would do when challenged by her older brother, she stood up for herself, shot perfectly, and killed her first and only love. For this reason she placed him in the sky, but as a reminder, Apollo also place Scorpius behind Orion to forever chase him as a warning to others that dared to infringe upon Artemis’ purity.

The constellation Orion has remained one of the most widely known constellations and his story has been passed on throughout time in many different forms. It has become a part of our culture and continues to be recognized by many people no matter the Astronomy background they may have.

(The picture below is one I took during full moon, this time at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, to the left top is an upside down Orion, due to the fact that I am in the Southern Hemisphere)

After many years and scientific advances these constellations have become more than just stories in the sky. They have transformed into helpful locaters and have become scientifically important.Since Orion is such an easy constellation to pick out it has made this transformation from more than just an interesting story into a pointer and identification piece for nearly every person that has admired the night sky. This constellation should be especially important to you because the GLOBE at Night program focuses its study around this constellation.

On March 3rd – 16th you will be given the opportunity to join the scientific application of this constellation by finding this handsome constellation and determining which magnitude chart fits your night sky. See this website for more detailed information about how to do all of this: http://www.globeatnight.org/observe_finder.html

The main idea is that there are 8 comparisons you can look at to determine which picture matches your sky. Here is one of these from the website http://www.globeatnight.org/observe_magnitude.html:

If you see a sky that is similar to this picture (the magnitude 7 chart) then it means that the faintest stars you can see at your location are of magnitude 7. It ends up being rather simple and all you have to do is enjoy the night sky, and compare what you are seeing with the supplied charts of the mighty hunter Orion.

So, remember when the time comes that the stars you are admiring and fighting for have had a magical transformation from early times into modern day. Yet, their stories and what might even be considered “personalities” have remained intact and been carried throughout the ages. Now is your opportunity to help with their transformation into more than just beautiful stories, and give them the ability to fight for their right to continue to shine down on us.

Another picture I took. This time from the top of Cerro Pachon at CTIO. This is the rising of the Galactic center, a bit of the Zodiacal lights, and just the tiniest hint of the rising sun.

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