By Vernon Whetstone
Speaking of constellations, have you ever heard of the “dueling” constellations?
Okay Sherman, set the “Way Back” machine for ancient Greece when all the mythology about constellations was just getting started.
Seems there was this great hunter who boasted he was the best hunter in all the world and could kill anything he came across.
Well, this riled up one of the goddesses who loved animals (guess they had PETA even back then) and she sent a giant scorpion after him as punishment for his boast.
Well, to make a long story short, after a battle the scorpion stung the hunter in the heel and he died. Some of the other gods (probably the guy gods who liked to hunt) took the body and put it in the heavens where he would be an inspiration to them all.
Not to be outdone the girl goddess put the scorpion in the sky too. That didn’t sit too well with the guy gods so they arranged it so the scorpion would never be in the sky at the same time that the hunter was, sort of to keep them apart and keep him safe from another scorpion attack.
In case you haven’t guessed, the scorpion is the constellation Scorpius and the hunter is Orion. The scorpion is considered a summer constellation while Orion is a winter constellation, so they are never in the sky at the same time.
In fact, go outside tonight, or any night this week about an hour after sunset and look to the western sky for our old friend Orion with his three belt stars, sword and upheld club, or shield, or whatever you want to call it.
To catch Scorpius at this time of the year you will need to be outside after midnight looking just above the eastern horizon for the three stars in a line that form the scorpion’s head. See, I told you, not in the sky at the same time.
As summer draws closer it will be rising earlier and be easier to see at a more sensible hour.
Thus the pair are forever traveling across the sky, the scorpion chasing Orion and Orion keeping ahead and out of reach. I guess it could be considered sort of a “duel.”
SKY WATCH: New moon May 3. Since you will be out about an hour after sunset looking for Orion, swing your gaze north to find the Big Dipper asterism high in the sky.
Weather lore has it that the dipper is upside down now because it is pouring all its water out for April showers.
Follow the two outer stars of the dipper’s cup from upper to lower on a line directly to Polaris, the North Star which is the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Between them is the tail of Draco, the Dragon. He swings in a big loop around the Little Dipper down to an oddly shaped box for a head. The head is just to the right of the upper portion of another celestial hero, Hercules.
While in Hercules, get your binoculars or that telescope you got for Christmas and look on the top side of the slightly off kilter box called the “Keystone” making up the body of Hercules for the super brilliant Hercules Star Cluster, M13. The really bright star just clearing the horizon below Hercules is Vega, the brightest star in Lyra, the Harp, one of the three stars making up the Summer Triangle.
NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering about constellations.