BOÖTES & CANES VENATICI
Boötes, the Herdsman, appears almost directly overhead before midnite in the early part of the summer, eventually sliding off to the west.
Boötes was placed in the sky to pursue the bear, Ursa Major, through the heavens along with his greyhounds, Asterion, "the starry", and Chara, "the dear", who was dear to the heart of Boötes. Asterion and Chara form the small, and not easily noticed, constellation "Canes Venatici" located beneath the big dipper, or near the legs of the Great Bear.
Boötes appears in the shape of an ice cream cone. One of the skies brightest stars, Arcturus, is at the point of the cone.
Located right next to Boötes and between he and Hercules in the heavens, is the constellation "Corona Borealis", the "Northern Crown, a half-circle of stars that represents the crown of Ariadne. When Theseus went to Crete on his errand to destroy the Minotaur in his labyrinth home, Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, provided Theseus with a thread which he was able to use to find his way back out of the labyrinth. Theseus gave Ariadne the crown when they married. Ariadne's fate is somewhat confused by variations of the story after this point. For some reason, she was abandoned by Theseus on the Greek island of Naxos. The crown was placed in the heavens by Venus. Just as a further footnote, King Minos was an illigitimate son of Zeus and Europa.
In the July sky, almost directly overhead before midnite is the Greek hero/god, Hercules. As a constellation, he is most easily recognized by a trapezoid of stars that form his body, which is kneeling with feet to the north and arms to the south. He holds a lion's skin, a group of stars between himself and the constellation "Lyra". The Lion skin is a relic of the first of his twelve labors. It belongs to Leo, who is a zodiac constellation. Hercules was, believe it or not, an illigitimate son of Zeus and mother Alkmena. He was raised as the son of Alkmena's husband Amphitryon, but Zeus eventually persuaded Hera to adopt him as well. Hercules legend began as a man, who through his strength and virtue was able to triumph through 12 trials and was later elevated to God-status.
Hercules was accidently betrayed by his wife, Deianeira. Deianeira gave Hercules a cloak to wear that she annoited with the blood of the centaur Nessus, believing it would protect Hercules. Nessus had given the blood to Deianeira with the promise that it would protect her from any rival. Hercules had killed Nessus with a poison arrow for touching Deianeira "with wanton hands". The cloak tortured Hercules to the point that he begged to die and Zeus placed him in the heavens.
The stories of Hercules are many and like many of the Greek myths, there are different versions from different authors. I've been trying to remember the Hercules theme song from the saturday morning cartoon. If anyone can tell me the rest, I'd be really thrilled.
Hercules, hero of song and story! Hercules, winner of fame and glory! With the strength of ten ordinary men... (??)
THE SUMMER TRIANGLE
In August before midnite, the stars of the Summer Triangle are overhead. The Summer triangle is composed of three bright stars in three different constellations. The bright stars are Vega in the constellation "Lyra, the Lyre", Deneb in "Cygnus, the Swan" and Altair in "Aquila, the Eagle".
Vega is the second brightest star in the summer sky after Arcturus in Boötes. It shines with a blue/white brilliance as a jewel. The constellation Lyra, the Lyre is a harp-like instrument invented by Hermes and given to Apollo, his half-brother who passed it on to his son, Orpheus, the musician of the Argonauts. Orpheus was able to drown out the music of the sirens with his Lyre, allowing the Argonauts to safely pass their shores. Later, Orpheus entered the underworld to return his wife Eurydice. He gains her release with the agreement that he will never gaze upon her but upon returning to the upper world, he broke his deal by turning to look at her and she was returned to the dead. Zeus, as a tribute to Orpheus' music placed the Lyre in the heavens. Near the end of Plato's Republic, the soul of Orpheus returning for a new life, requests one as a swan. The Swan, Cygnus, is to the northeast of Lyra in the Milky Way, flying southward with wings out-stretched.
Aquila is the messenger from heaven, leading souls to immortality. In olden times, the Lyre was placed on the talons of Aquila. Aquila also flies south through the Milky Way with wings out-stretched.
A word about star maps...
Star maps are meant to be read while being held over your head. The star maps on this page follow the usual formula which places north at the top, south at the bottom and, heres the odd part, west on the right side and east on the left.
SUMMER SKIES * THE SOLSTICE * SKY STORIES