Thursday, October 30, 2008

All In the Family & The Siderial Year Marches On

In my last astronomy post, I told you how to find the Great Square of Pegasus, the winged horse upon which the ancient Greeks said Perseus rode to the rescue of the Princess Andromeda. Well, the Earth has moved along its yearly path and Pegasus is no longer in the eastern sky during the early evening. It’s now directly overhead, or as astronomers say, at zenith. About 9 PM, or 2100, for those of you on 24 hr time, step outside on a clear evening and look straight up. There Pegasus is, right over your head. This is the perfect time to pull out those old binoculars and take a look at the Andromeda Galaxy, two million light years distant. (Note: For your convenience, in the picture above, I have exaggerated the main stellar objects mentioned in this post.)

There are numerous other constellations which you can find by referencing Pegasus. As I told you, I think of the Andromeda constellation as the hind legs of Pegasus. Pegasus is immediately south of the Milky Way. Look just to the north of Andromeda, past the Andromeda Galaxy, and the next prominent grouping of stars which you will see is the Cassiopeia constellation. It’s obvious because it’s shaped like a “W”. She is usually depicted as sitting back on her throne admiring herself in a mirror. For some reason in the illustration below, she is holding a palm branch. Go figure. In any case, lovely lady she was to get her daughter into such trouble because of her vanity!

Cassiopeia sits right in the middle of the path of the Milky Way. This time of the year, the Milky Way stretches across the sky from the East to the West. If you look directly west from the “W” of Cassiopeia, the next bright star that you will see is Deneb, the tail feather of (Cygnus). Cygnus, the Swan, is flying down the Milky Way to meet Aquila, the Eagle, soon to set in the West. That bright star to the north of Cygnus and Aquila is Vega of the Lyra constellation. Remember the
Summer Triangle? It too is soon to set, and won’t be visible for many of us for the next six months.

Let’s get back to Cassiopeia and Andromeda. Cassiopeia mouthed off about how beautiful she was, and the gods took it out on Andromeda, declaring that she must be sacrificed to the sea monster. Now we can’t leave the fair maiden to a sea monster. He wouldn’t know what to do with a fair maiden anyway, would he? This is where Perseus comes into the picture... quite literally. Look to the northeast of Pegasus’s hind legs, or, if you will, Andromeda’s feet (the proper place for any man), and you will see a bright, crooked, curving “V” of stars. This is the mighty hero Perseus. Perseus was the son of the head guy of the Greek gods, Zeus, and of Danaë, a human princess. Perseus killed the snake haired monster, Medusa, and rode Pegasus to the rescue of Andromeda. They married and lived happily ever after.

An interesting little bit of trivia about Perseus: The tale of Perseus is the only story in all Greek mythology in which nothing negative is said about the hero. He is brave. He is handsome. And he is honorable. It is also the only Greek myth which gives its hero and heroine a happy ending... except, I’m still wondering about that mother-in-law.

If you have access to old movies, I think that you’ll find 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS, which covers this myth, to be lots of fun.

Happy viewing,

Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future


Jace said...

Wow, Frances! Thanks for the detailed post. Very enlightening indeed. :-D

Frances said...

Hi Jace, I hope that you can get to a dark place so that you can see some of the stuff I am describing here. Can't tell that I like looking at the stars can you? LOL