In the earliest years of astronomy, no one had a clear understanding of the magic of the stars in the skies. Twinkling stars were untouchable, yet they glowed every night. Naming the constellations after mythological creatures probably came out of an effort to both understand and remember. Astronomers who originally named the stars and constellations did such a good job that all 88 constellations have kept their names for hundreds of years.
A favorite book for understanding the stories behind the constellations and the stars is Olcott’s Field Book of the Skies, revised by R. Newton Mayal and Margaret W. Mayal. It was first published in 1929. There is very little in the book that has changed with modern day astronomy. All the stars are still there and not one constellation has moved out of the skies.
Since the book was first published we’ve been to the moon more than once, sent rovers across the landscape of Mars and sent satellites and probing instruments to the far reaches of our solar system. But the stories are still solid. There is Leo the lion, Orion the hunter and Gemini the twins high overhead. Leo was a mythological beast with origins reaching back to the Egyptian Pharaohs, according to the writers of this book. Taurus the Bull is a constellation that goes back at least 4,000 years. And the Pleiades, a star cluster in Taurus, is at least that old and well documented by the Chinese and the Japanese. Subaru is the Japanese word for Pleiades.
Stars and even the planets are kept alive by the tales that go with their names. Mercury is the long distance fast runner. Neptune is the King of the sea. Mars is the warrior.
Astronomy is one for the ages and yet also accessible each night in everyone’s backyard.
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Water temperature in Edgartown harbor: 45º F.