Myths, Legends and Lore

Charles Messier
Oral Traditions
Greek Names
Also Rans
Abbe LaCaille
Names in the Sky
Milky Way
Solar Family Tree
" & Alkmena
" & Amathea
" & Callisto
" & Europa
" & Ganymede
" & Io
" & Leda

Canes Venatici
Canis Major
Canis Minor

Coma Berenices
Corona Austrinus
Corona Borealis

Leo Minor

Pisces Austrinus
Triangulum Australe
Ursa Major
Ursa Minor


Although I have heard many of these tales and how the stars were named since I was a child, there is no better reference on the subject than Richard Hinckley Allen's Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, written over a hundred years ago. Once you can get by the occasional unthinking and insensitive late 19th century chauvinism, there is a wealth of information and scholarship to be mined. Allen covers European star lore completely, and makes major diversions into ancient Arabic and Chinese star lore as well.

In general northern constellations are Greek mythological beings. However, what one person sees usually is different from another. What the Greeks saw as the outline of the hunter Orion, Arabians saw as the Central Giant in a cast of three, and the Chinese saw as two constellations; The Emperor on his Throne and the Second Minister of State for Water Works! Talk about a powerful bureaucracy! While the constellations are in general Latin names of Greek myths, the stars tend to be Arabic.

Generally, planets and the larger asteroids take Roman names, while the satellites take Greek or Shakespearean names. This is not followed exactly. Smaller asteroids and comets are named by or for their discoverer. You cannot "buy" a name from any authorized group. There is a scam where your name is registered as the "owner" of a star. It has no creditability or recognition.

Oral Traditions

Myths have been carried on from teller to teller. In spite of a name change here and there, and details embellished and lost, remarkable amounts of the original tale manage to remain intact. There are well documented legends among the native American of eastern Canada of the incursions of the Vikings more than 1100 years after the same story circulated from Norway. Even great works which we think of as books The Illiad and The Odyssey were not transcribed to paper until centuries after they were first told by Homer.

One man's myth is another man's history. A Brown professor on sabaticle was studying the use of masks in drama among the primitive island peoples. He had been granted the extraordinary privilege of attending a sacred ceremony that no westener had ever been allowed to see. However, the islanders said that he would have to tell them his most special story in return. After he witnessed their sacred story, which recounted how their ancestors drove demons from their village, the professor told the story of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

The villagers were plainly disappointed with this story and the professor was in a very unpleasant predicament. Failing to make good on a promise was a serious insult. He asked what was wrong to a trusted person who answered "We gave you our very best story, and while your story was good, we know it is not your best one." That was all he or any other adult would say.

The Professor still had no idea what story was wanted. So that evening the professor said to everyone "In my land there is a tradition that a child must ask for our most sacred story or we cannot tell it." This seemed reasonable to everyone so a small boy came up and said "Please tell us your great story of the Men Who Went to the Moon!" Soon, everyone, particularly the professor, was all smiles as the villagers listened to our great myths about Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

An Influential Gentleman

Most constellations were named by anonymous people in antiquity, but not all. With the exception of the International Astronomical Union's 1930 "Delimitation Scientifique des Constellations" by Eugene DeLaPorte, no one or no group has had more influence determining the names and boundaries of constellations than Abbe [Abbott] Nicolas Louis de LaCaille, a churchman turned astronomer. Abbe LaCaille wrote his major works in the middle of the 18th century as a result of being sent by the Pope to chart the southern constellations. LaCaille was equipped with a state of the art instrument - a telescope with a full two centimeter objective (½" - That is like looking through a garden hose!) And I've had the temerity to complain about a paltry 3½" objective!

LaCaille is responsible for naming most of the constellations in the far south. With scientific instruments just coming into use, it is no wonder that LaCaille named these constellations for his tools of the trade: Antlia, Caelum, Circinus, Fornax, Horologium, Mensa, Microscopium, Norma [et Regula], Octans, Pictor, Reticulum, Sextans and Telescopium.

Of course, not all the southern constellations were found in our Abbott's astronomy kit. We find religious connotations such as Ara and Crux. He also tossed in a few animals: Chaemeleon, Dorado, Grus, Musca, Pavo, Phoenix, Tucana and Volans.

Rounding out the south, he split the huge constellation Argo [Ship of the Argonauts] into Carina, Puppis, Pyxis and Vela.

The Names are the Same to Confuse the Innocent

The Arabians left many stars with the same name through European's lack of knowledge of Arabic. For example there are two stars called Rigil [Beta Orionis and Alpha Centauri]. Worse yet there are at least ten stars whose name is derived from Deneb (or more accurately Dhanab). These include Beta, Eta and Iota Ceti; Beta Leonis; Epsilon Delphini; Nu Scorpii; Delta Capricorni; Epsilon and Gamma Aquilae and oh yes the star we know as Deneb - Alpha Cygni.

Now the Arabians weren't mixed up. The word rigil simply means foot and dhanab means tail. For example, the Arabians thought of the constellation Cygnus [the Swan] as a Hen with her chicks about her feet. They were pecking grain [from the Milky Way]. Dhanab al Dajajah was simply the tail of the Hen. The Arabians can hardly be blamed for us shortening and changing the name to Deneb. Nor were they to blame for Dhanab al Leo becoming Denebola. Similarly, Rigil Algauze [Foot of the Central One/Giant] and Rigil Kentaurus [Centaur's Foot] didn't confuse the Arabians - only silly people like us who have forgotten how the names arose.

Greek Names

Although most of the myths and the original names of the planets were Greek, the Romans placed their own equivalent deities names on the bodies and they have stuck. This short list of Greek and Roman deities' names matches bodies in the solar system who are mentioned elsewhere in this documents as myths.

	Body         Roman        Greek or "title"       Satellite Names
	------------ ------------ -------------------    ---------------
	Sun          Apollo       Helios,Sol,Phoebus
	Mercury      Mercury      Hermes
	Venus        Venus        Aphrodite
	Earth        Terra        Gaia
	  Moon         Diana        Selene,Luna,Hecate
	Mars         Mars         Ares                   4 Horsemen of
	  Deimos                    Deimos                the Apocolypse
	  Phobos                    Phobos
	Eros*        Cupid        Eros
	Proserpina*  Proserpina   Persephone
	Ceres*       Ceres        Demeter
	Juno*        Juno         Hera
	Pallas*      Minerva      Pallas,Athena
	Vesta*       Vesta
	Jupiter      Jupiter      Zeus,Jove              Minor Olympians
	  Io                        Io                    and his lovers
	  Europa                    Europa
	  Ganymede                  Ganymede
	  Callisto                  Callisto
	  Amalthea                  Amalthea
	  Leda                      Leda
	Saturn       Saturn       Cronus                 Titans
	  Atlas                     Atlas
	  Epimetheus                Epimetheus
	  Prometheus                Prometheus
	  Pandora                   Pandora
	  Titan                     Titan
	  Pan                       Pan
	Uranus       Uranus       Ouranos                Shakespearean
	  Puck                                            heroines and
	  Ariel                                           mythic beings
	Neptune      Neptune      Poseidon               Oceanic deities
	  Triton                    Triton
	  Nereid                    Nereid
	  Galatea                   Galatea
	Pluto        Pluto        Hades                  Denizens of
	  Charon                    Charon                Hades realm

* an asteroid.

The Solar System Family Tree

You are probably suspect I am about to describe something boring like the scientific categorizations of planets into groups like terrestrial and gas giants. None of that boring science stuff here, we're talking about a genuine screw loose family of epic proportions. Or at least as genuine as you can get in a myth. I've limited the family tree to the major planets and their Mamas. That is how Maia (one of the Pleiades and a moon of Jupiter) and Juno (the long suffering wife and asteriod) got placed in the list. I've attributed Diana (the Moon) and Apollo (the Sun) to Jupiter and Juno. Various myths disagree but who can prove me wrong; certainly not genetic detective work.


In my mind's eye, I had this essay laid out starting with the Constellations of the Zodiac and the Milky Way followed by the brighter constellations visible from Frosty Drew Observatory. Well, I've already made at least diversion in talking about southern hemisphere stars, and another by talking about how names evolve. Before I get hopelessly lost, let me return to my plan.

The Zodiac [literally zoo path], consists of twelve constellations. These constellations are in order of their arrival on the horizon Pisces [Fishes], Aries [Ram], Taurus [Bull], Gemini [Twins], Cancer [Crab], Leo [Lion], Virgo [Maiden], Libra [Scales], Scorpio [Scorpion], Sagittarius [Archer Centaur], Capricornus [Goat], and Aquarius [Water Bearer]. In reality, another constellation Ophiuchus [Serpent Handler] should also be included because the Zodiac is significant only because it contains the path the Sun and the planets travel, the Ecliptic plane [literally plane of the eclipses]. Ophiuchus contains over twice as much of the Ecliptic as Scorpio [the narrowest constellation in the Zodiac]. The constellations are not even approximately the same width. It takes the Sun slightly over 44 days to travel across Virgo, but only 6 days to cross Scorpio. Originally, the Ecliptic was lower causing Ophiuchus to be missed and a wider part of Scorpio to be traversed.


We no sooner start our tour of the Zodiac before we come to the first instance of the sky turning on it gyroscopic axis. The Vernal Equinox, the point where the Sun crosses the Equator coming North, is located in Pisces. There is nothing unusual about that except that the Vernal Equinox's other even more common name is the First Point of Aries. Spring has drifted a whole constellation East since astronomers determined where the Sun was on the first day of Spring.

Pisces is one of those relatively blah constellations. It is made up of 4 magnitude stars (about as bright as Jupiter's Moons). A bit of haze, and away goes Pisces.


The constellation Aries as the Ram has relatively few myths associated with it, but under its older name Phrixis, this constellation is central to a tale of woe. Phrixis was trying to save his sister Helle by flying away from their terrible stepmother Ino. Unfortunately, Phrixis couldn't hold Helle and she fell to her death in the waters we know as the Hellespont.

Since Ram's have horns, this constellation appears on some old maps as Cornus (the horn). Unlike most of the signs of the Zodiac, the symbol for Aries appears very often in modern astronomy texts. It is used for the "First Point of Aries", another name for the Vernal Equinox, the point where the Sun appears to cross the Equator in Spring. In antiquity, this was a reasonable symbol. However throughout the last two millenia we have had the Vernal Equinox in Pisces and by 2630 it will move into Aquarius, but I'll bet the funny curved Y rams horms still is used to mean the Vernal Equinox.


After dealing with two rather nondescript constellations, we come to one of the heavy hitter's of the celestial line up. Taurus is a lot more than simply a Bull who frightens seven maidens and who in turn is chased by the mightiest hunter of the heavens, Orion.

First up are the Pleiades. The Pleiades are the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and the Nymph Plieone [from whom the cluster gets its name]. These are the two stars just outside the main group. The girls are Alcyone, Maia, Electra, Merope, Taygeta, Celaeno, and Sterope. Alcyone was the eldest and most beautiful and in this cluster Alcyone is the brightest star.

Alcyone used to mark the Vernal Equinox in the time of the Greeks. Because Alcyone marked the beginning of Spring, warm balmy gentle days became known as halcyon days. [Another derivation has halcyon days meaning the January thaw when Alcyone is overhead}.

The Hyades were half sisters of the Pleiades - daughters of Atlas and Aethra. There were supposed to be seven sisters here, but to the naked eye only five stars appear Kleea, Eudora, Koronis, Phaeo and Phaesula. Actually, if the myth of the rampaging bull is to be credited, perhaps the two lost sister were trampled because the bull's horns are right on top of the Hyades.

Certainly the brightest star of Taurus is Aldebaran. In Arabic, Aldebaran is the word follower. Given the sinister intent of the bull perhaps we might read various dark meanings into the word. However, I like the Hindu name Rohini meaning the red deer.

This constellation is also tied up in the myths of Juno's rage at Jupiter's infidelities with Io and Europa. Other connotations are tied up with the stories of the Cretan bull fighters, youths and maidens, who fought bulls to gain glory. In these derivations, the Hyades are youths with the maidens waiting their turn a bit later.

The Austrailian Aborigines saw the two great open clusters somewhat differently than we do. The Pleiades was called the Women's Campfire and the Hyades was the Men's Campfire. The women gather closely so they could exchange stories. None of the women tried to outshine each other and none were out of touch. The men's gathering was quite something else. Some men were meek and sat quietly by the fire, but others were boastful and ran about. Mighty Aldebaran toured the edge shouting to the quiet ones by the fire. This campfire was more like a shouting match than a sociable conclave. I wonder if this was the original bull session?


Among almost all peoples, Gemini has appeared to be two people, sometimes the twin brothers Castor and Pollux, sometimes a brother and a sister, or as two giants accompanying the greatest giant Orion [Arabian]. With such a rich mythic tradition, I'll focus on the story of Caster and Pollux.

Caster and Pollux were the twin sons of Leda - one by her husband and one by Jupiter when he appeared to her in the guise of a huge swan. One brother was mortal and the other an immortal demigod. The immortal brother gave up his immortality to demonstrate his love for his brother and his father Jupiter placed them in the sky together as a reward.

Castor and Pollux sailed on the Argo when Jason sought the Golden Fleece of Cholchis. Castor and Pollux were also confusedly deemed to be Romulus and Remus the founders of Rome.


Cancer is dullest of Zodiacal constellations. No star in it is as bright as the fourth magnitude. Only the beautiful open cluster Praesepe adorns it. Cancer (as a crab) and cancer (as a tumor) have been attributed to the Roman Poet Virgil who described the disease as a crab gnawing within. Sometimes people born under this sign are called Moon Children to avoid the association with the disease. However this has a problem since Moon Children are also people born out of wedlock.


The greater Lion is the next constellation to rise. In mythology, this was the Nemean Lion, who Hercules slew as one of Hercules' twelve impossible tasks. Leo is a constellation tied up with the god Bacchus (Dionysius) the god of wine, debauchery and insanity.

We tend to see this constellation as a sickle (a hand held cutting tool) or a backwards question mark. The Chinese saw this constellation as two portions originally, but adopted the Lion from western contacts in the 16th century.

Regulus [Alpha Leo] derives its name from Rex - or King, a stately name for the King of Beasts. We have already learned about Denebola - the Lion's tail.


Virgo, the maiden, is often associated with the story of Proserpina the daughter of Ceres who was abducted by Pluto to be his wife. Ceres was so distraught that nothing grew on Earth until the Olympian god's made Pluto relent at least half the year. When Proserpina is restored to Ceres, Spring arrives. In Rome the Vestal Virgins were dedicated to Ceres.

Virgo is always shown as a reclining and supine young woman in classical style paintings. In the somewhat more prudish 19th century, the drawings are of an angel with great flowing wings. However, to me, if you connect the dots, you get something a bit different. What shows up is a young girl in a pinafore dress with an apron. I am very much reminded of the picture of the real little girl whom Lewis Carroll immortalized in Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland.

Spica is a stalk of wheat (literally a spike). This is reasonable given that Virgo's mother is the goddess of grain. What I find very strange is that this same star is called Keok in Chinese which also means spike. Perhaps the story was carried there early.


The Scales are a relatively late addition to the Roman Zodiac. The Scales didn't appear in the earlier Greek Zodiac. Middle Eastern people saw this constellation as a chariot yoke. I don't know of any myths associated with Libra beyond the famous "Blind Justice" representation.

The two brightest stars have wonderfully weird sounding names Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamaili. I think these translate as the northern and southern claws, but I am not sure. If so, then they were originally part of Scorpio.


The Scorpion is completely across the sky from Orion. When Scorpio rises, Orion sets. You might think that these two constellations had nothing to do with each other but you would be wrong. Orion, handsomest of men and greatest of hunters, was anathema to Diana who among her other attributes was both protector of maidens and the protector of fauna. Diana saw Orion as a menace to both her maidens and her forest animals. However, Orion was far too great a hunter to be taken down by any ordinary animal. So Diana created a special animal, the Scorpion, whose sting while painful and possibly dangerous to most men, was instantly fatal to Orion. Orion was laid low, but when both he and the Scorpion who bit him were raised to the stars, Orion fearing a repeat keeps his distance from his nemesis.

The great star of Scorpio, Antares has its names derived from Ares [The Greek name for Mars]. In color (reddish) and location (the Zodiac) Antares can be confused with Mars. Many classical texts list Antares as the "rival of Ares", but I favor the alternative translation which is simply a corruption of "anti-Ares" or "not-Ares".

We have already mentioned that the Ecliptic is now far enough north that it is diverted into Ophiuchus upon exiting Scorpio. However, we'll get back to Ophiuchus later, for now we'll pretend that the next constellation is the classical next constellation - the Archer.


Sagittarius is one of the two Centaurs represented in the sky. We can see little of Centaurus, but Sagittarius is easy to pick out in the summer sky. Only it doesn't look like a centaur shooting a bow at all. It looks for all the world like a teapot! You remember the ditty:

	I'm a little teapot, short and stout
	Here's my little handle and here's my little spout.


Well, sure enough, our teapot has a handle, and a spout. Out of this spout steam rises forming the milky way.

Sometimes Sagittarius is assumed to be the wise centaur Chiron. Other times he is a Satyr. To me it is wonderful enough to know that Sagittarius is where our galaxy is crashing into the smaller galaxy now known as the Sagittarius Galaxy. M54 is a globular cluster accelerated out of the Sagittarius Galaxy into our own, visual proof of the violent galactic cannibalism which radio astronomers have detected for decades. Here is where we are quite sure a giant block hole resides that swallows stars whole.

And if this weren't enough, where else can you get such an incredible array of bright Messier objects?


The word "caper" meaning a somewhat criminal act carried off with audacity is derived from Capricorn. These capers are the pranks of the Nanny Goat in the sky. Capricorn nursed the infant sun god Apollo when Juno was on one of her rages. Upon discovering that Jupiter had been dallying with Amalthea, Juno couldn't wait to wreak her vengeance on the infant god. However, the little god was nowhere to be found. He was hidden with some shepherds and their goats.

Dave Etris has given this constellation a very descriptive name - the smile. And indeed, the constellation looks far more like the grin of the Cheshire Cat than it does a Nanny Goat.

For you science fiction fans, Frank Herbert placed Baron Harkonnen's home world on Geidi Prime. Did you know this is merely Alpha Capricorni? This is an amazing system composed of two doubles which in turn are another double and a triple star.


Well, we've come full circle around the sky to the last constellation to rise. Those of you about my age will remember the rock musical Hair with its song "The Age of Aquarius". Now I don't know where in the sky the composers thought Aquarius was located, but the Age of Aquarius won't start until about 2630. The dawning of the Age of Aquarius was supposed to auger peace and tranquillity.

Well, maybe so but it is well to remember that the original designation of this constellation was the Peacock or a Goose - both symbolic birds of Juno. Was any goddess more easily enraged and willing to punish innocents for the transgressions of her husband? Somehow, the portents don't seem to match the lyrics.

None of the stars in Aquarius are very bright. However, all of these stars were considered the lucky stars by the Arabians. Sadalmelik means Lucky one of the king[dom]. Sadasuud means Luckiest of the lucky. And Sadalchbia means Lucky hiding places. Well on second thought maybe I wait to see how the Age of Aquarius turns out.

Milky Way

One of the problems with science is that you sometimes get a coherent and essentially dull view of the universe. We know know that the Milky Way is our local Galaxy as seen from about two thirds the distance from the hub to the rim. OK, enough of the science lets hear some myths and lore.

Our Galaxy has been called variously

	The Galaxy from the Greek word Galaxure or Lovely One
	which in turn got its name from	Galatea [Milk-white].
	Galatea, a lovely sea nymph, was the daughter of Oceanus.

	The Great Serpent [Akkadian]
	River of Nana [India]
	Al Nahr - The River [Arabian]
	Tien Ho - the Celestial River [China]
	Circulus Lacteus - Milk Circle [Rome]
	Coeli Cingulum - Sky Girdle [Rome]
	Path of Ghosts [Vikings and American Indians]
	Ashen Path [Kalahari Bushmen]
	Waetinga Straet - Watling Street [Anglo-Saxons]
	Asgard Bridge [Norse mythology - the hero's path to Valhalla]
	Winter Garden [Swedes]
	The Yellow [Brick?] Road [China]
	Long Blue Cloud Eating Shark [Incas]
	Fascist's Band [No not 20th century Germany but Ptolemy]

You might be tricked into thinking that the story of the Milky Way is limited to the tale that it was milk split while Juno nursed her two infant deities Venus and Mars. Well it is the classic story but there are many others.

Another one is that Phaeton convinced Apollo to let him test drive the snazzy new Sun Chariot that Vulcan had just built. Apparently the roads were still wet from a rain storm and poor old Phaeton was in trouble from the start. The Sun careened wildly across the heavens, leaving scorch marks.

Early philosophers had many ideas. Anaxagoras thought it was sunlight reflected from a band of dust. Aristotle thought it was gasses released from fires on Earth. Avicenna thought it was vapors emitted from stars in the area [boy, is that getting close to our definition of a emitting nebula].

A Dysfunctional Family Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cephus, Perseus and Draco

If you were looking for The Soap Opera of the Sky, Andromeda and her family would be a strong contender. Lets set the stage - the King and Queen of Ethiopia [yeah, really Ethiopia] are Cephus and Cassiopeia. Being the proud parents, the royal couple bragged incessantly about the beauty of daughter, Andromeda. Indeed, Andromeda was beautiful, but her parent's constant bragging annoyed a bunch of Nereids.

The Nereids are femme fatals who would wreck the reputations of biker girls. Don't bother to look for them as a constellation - they took off as soon as the put they hit on poor Andromeda. After much planning, the Nereids decided that the best way to punish the parents was to convert Andromeda into a plate full of dragon munchies. Since they suspected that Andromeda would not enthusiastically endorse such a plan, the Nereids chained Andromeda to a big flat rock outside the cave of a local dragon named Draco. Old Draco was meaner than a junk yard dog and had table manners that would gag a starving wolf. All in all, the Nereid's meal plans just didn't live up to Andromeda's expectations for a coming out party.

Since Andromeda's Mama was one tough lady in her own right, the Nereids tied Cassiopeia to an uncomfortable "W" shaped chair. However, Cephus, a dim bulb if there ever was one, was left untied. The Nereids correctly assumed he wouldn't have the brains to free either his wife or daughter. Night after night Cephus whirls about the North Pole, wringing his hands in anguish, waiting for his daughter to become various delectable dragon tidbits. [It is no wonder that Cephus' crown, a conical hat, is now used as a dunce's cap].

Only one thing was possible to prevent a tragedy - a local itinerant hero named Perseus was hired. After a whirlwind forced courtship concluded, a marriage contract was arranged if and when Perseus should slay the dragon and unchain his bride to be. The only problem was that Draco was invulnerable to any type of weapon or poison. This left Perseus in a quandary.

Ultimately Perseus came up with an effective if very bloody minded solution. He "borrowed" Minerva's gleaming shield and went after a snake haired gorgon named Medusa. Poor Medusa had such bad hair days that she literally petrified any would be swain who happened to look at her. Since Medusa incorrectly suspected her problem was halitosis, she was very irritable from gargling the local swill they called mouth wash in those days. Minerva's shield reflected Medusa's image back on herself, stoning the gorgon in a flash. A quick swish of the sword and the deed was done. Holding Medusa's head on the other side of the magical shield, Perseus was able to petrify Draco.

Perseus and Andromeda, in the fullness of time became the new King and Queen. They lived happily ever ... well at least till the bills came due and Perseus developed a roving eye. Given the circumstances one can charitably forgive Andromeda if she wonders whether becoming a plate of dragon munches might not be preferable to a hubby who spends millennia getting ready to do his big thing and then ducks out of the house when a pretty girl walks by.

Hmmmm ... now I wonder if Minerva's shield was configured as a long focus paraboloid ... but ah, that is the beginnings of a myth I've yet to publish.

The constellations of Andromeda, Cephus, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Draco abound with astronomical delights. Messier 31 with its attendants is probably the center piece. It is easy to find this "nebeculular" or little clouds. Run a line through the diagonal of the Great Square of Pegasus through Andromeda's brightest star Alpheratz. Use Cassiopeia right hand arrow head in the "W" as a pointer. Where they meet is very close to the fuzzy fourth magnitude patch. A good pair of binoculars is the ideal tool for seeing this large object. In fact, M31 is larger than the Moon.

Perseus, after slaying Medusa, found he himself holding a Demon's Head - Ras al Ghul from which we derive, Algol, the blinking demon star. In spite of the two demons, the stories are quite distinct. Ghul is the basis from which we get our word ghoul. The Ghoul appears as the bad guy in many the tales told by Shaherzade as she beguiled her husband so he would let her live one more day. The Hebrew's called this star Rosh ha Satan [Satan Head]. This star is also supposed to be Lilith, Adam's legendary first wife, a vampire like woman who appears and reappears in morality plays throughout the middle ages. The Chinese thought this star was a Pile of Corpses [Tseih She].

Algol is a very evident variable star, one of the few which change noticeably to the naked eye. It is a spectroscopic eclipsing variable.

Normally, the bright stars of a constellation are the most important, but no star in the north is more significant to science than Delta Cephii. This star gives its constellation to an entire class of variable stars called Cepheid Variables. These stars are bright enough to be seen in near by galaxies. They also have the property that they vary in brightness in proportion to the time it takes them to vary. So viola! Simply time how long it takes for a Cepheid variable to change and measure how bright it is, in some neighboring galaxy (say Andromeda) and you can determine how far away the galaxy is. Well, sort of. The problem is that the nearest Cepheid variables in our galaxy all lie so far away that we can only get an approximate measure of how far they area. So if we see a Cepheid variable which has a time period equal to Delta Cephii and has a brightness which is one ten billionth that of Delta Cephii, then the distant galaxy lies 100,000 times as far away as Delta Cephii. That is great, except we only roughly know how far Delta Cephii is from us, something like 300 light-years give or take a dozen.

In case, you haven't figured out who made hay from Cepheid variables, it was that guy who got the Space Telescope named after him - Edwin Hubble. I really feel that at least the telescope should be called the Levitt/Hubble telescope because Henrietta Levitt, one of the first woman professional astronomers was the one who figured out the Cepheid periods, brightnesses and distances were are correlated. However in the chauvinism of the early twentieth century she has all but been forgotten.

Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

Before I get to the Big Dipper, let me lay to rest a peculiar myth that I have only encountered in Rhode Island. I refer of course to the large number of Rhode Islanders who are convinced that Polaris is the brightest star in the sky. Trust me Polaris isn't the brightest star! In fact, Polaris just makes the top fifty. I have horrible thoughts of the following scenario being repeated one boat after another:

    After a particularly frustrating afternoon trying to retrieve lobster pots from far off shore the Mollusk brothers, Kwoh and Hog, discover they have left their compass at home. They mill about until way after dark. Although fog obscures the horizon, they can see the stars above them. "What are we gonna do?" lamented Kwoh, but the doughty Hog responded, "Don't clam up, Musselhead! I was in Ms Dora Knobb's fourth grade star class. I know she said the brightest star is Polaris, the north star. That there big old star is brighter than any of them other stars." So away they sailed due south following Sirius to who knows what fate.

The other more gentle Rhode Island myth is that the Pleiades is the Little Dipper. Guess what, it isn't. If the Little Dipper didn't hold the pole star, I would have excluded this dull little constellation. A few thousand years ago I could have skipped Ursa Minor altogether. We are used to the sky remaining the same, but it isn't so. Today, Polaris is almost on top of the North Celestial Pole. However, the Pyramid Builder's saw another star in this place, Thuban. In fact, Thuban was actually ten times closer to the Pole than Polaris will ever get. All of us have heard how to find Polaris from the Dipper's pointer stars on the side of the bowl away from the handle. Egyptian Children 5700 years ago were taught to use the inner two bowl stars to find Thuban! The Roman's around the time of Christ, lacked a pole star entirely! And some time in the next 15000 years, Vega will have the job.

Let's face it Ursa Major, the Big Bear is wrongly named. It was, is, and for the foreseeable future will remain something that looks like a long handled ladle. Big Dipper it was and Big Dipper it shall remain. No Bear has a long tail. Even the most anatomically peculiar Teddy Bears lack any significant posterior appendage.

A few other reasonably apt names have been attached to this bright constellation. In the British Isles, even into this century, this constellation was called the Plow. The handle is a horse yoke, the outer edge of the bowl is the plowman's handle and the inner edge is the cutting blade. Not as good as a dipper but reasonable. My grandfather and grandmother, born on farms in the British Isles always called it the plow, but my father, born in New England called it the Dipper. The Old German's called this constellation the Wagon.

Once again, the archetypal story about the bears were that Jupiter dallied with the nymph Callisto begetting the child Arctos by her. Ever vengeful Juno, once again attacked the poor mortal, rather than her powerful husband with his nasty thunderbolts. Juno changed Callisto and Arctos to long tailed bears. Jupiter transported them to their special place in the sky because of his love for the mother.

The brightest star is Dubhe [Bear], which somehow got shortened from Thahr al Dubb al Akbar. Dubhe and Merak are the famous pointer stars. Five times the distance from Merek to Dubhe will bring you to Polaris. People find it amazing that both children and adults can use the same finger spreading technique to count the five steps. Of course, the children's smaller fingers are matched by smaller arms, leaving the angle the same for kids and adults.

Alcor and Mizar, half way out the handle remain the archetypal double double.


Aquila, the Eagle, has always been associated with Jupiter. After all, it was an Eagle which Jupiter sent to plague Prometheus. Altair, Aquila's brightest star, anchors one corner of the Summer Triangle, along with Vega and Deneb at the other two corners. A grouping such as the Summer Triangle is not a constellation but a "asterism".


Auriga is the Charioteer. One would think that someone with a Chariot would have a team of horses but Auriga usually shown drawn by Goats or Oxen. One unusual tale has Auriga really being Erichthonius the son of Vulcan the lame god. Erichthonius had the misfortune to inherit his father's lame leg, so his father, the greatest craftsman of antiquity fashioned a chariot.

The brightest star in Auriga is Capella. Capella is the She Goat of the team. This goat was the source of milk that fed the infant Jupiter as he escaped from his father Cronus. Capella is very similar in spectrum to the Sun.


Bootes has an umlaut over the second "o". It should be pronounced as Bow -ooo-tays. Boots and booties just do not hack it. Bootes is various described as a Teamster or a Plowman with his team. But all you have to do is look up at it and it is obvious that it should be called the Paper Kite.

The principle star of Bootes is Arcturus who manages to get mixed up in the story of Callisto and Arctos (see Ursa Major). There is a very handy jingle for finding this constellation Follow the arc to Arcturus and then Speed on to Spica. This assume you know that the Arc refers to the bent handle in the Big Dipper.

Going to the Dogs: Canes Venetici, Canes Major, Canes Minor, Lupus, and Vulpecula

Canines are all over the Sky. We have a fox, a wolf, a pack of hounds, and two dogs. The Hounds (Canes Venetici) actually are hunting the Big and Little Bears probably under the control of Bootes. Edmund Halley [of the comet fame] tried to rename Canes Venetici for the King of England. By the time of John Flamsteed the First Astronomer Royal a generation later, this theft had been reduced to a misdemeanor. Only Cor Coroli [Charle's Heart] show the name changes. Actually, neither Halley nor Flamsteed seems to have been the instigator but a court doctor named Scarborough.

The Wolf, Lupus, is at the extreme southern edge of visibility from FDO. Looking south, it is lower and to the right of Scorpio.

The Fox, Vulpecula, was once part of a larger grouping called the Fox and the Goose. We now call the Goose, the Swan or Cygnus. The Fox hides behind the Swan so that the Hounds can't find him.

The two hunting dogs of Orion, Canis Major and Minor have more science than mythology to them. Actually the bright stars of these two constellations were crucual to Egyptians. Procyon, literally, the Lead Dog, rises before Sirius, in the Greater Dog. This was a warning to the court astronomers along the Nile. They then kept careful watch to see when Sirius rose at the same time dawn broke. Although the sky has twisted around a lot since then, 5700 years ago, this concurrence meant the Nile floods were about to occur. Farming was timed by this event. Sirius was crucial to the process. It is bright enough to see at dawn if you know just where to look.

A Whale of a Tale : Hydra, Hydrus, Cetus and Delphinus

Just as there were lots of Dogs, the sky has many fanciful and more realistic sea beasts. There is a lady seamosnster and a gentleman sea monster. Only one of these, the fairer sex version is visible from FDO. The other is wrapped around things near the South Pole. I only mention the invisible one because so many people confuse these two monsters.

The Whale is not only visible, but is a huge constellation. This is a baleen whale like the Blue Whale. People have tried, unsucessfully, to say this was Jonah's Whale. A more modern rendering calls this the Easy Chair or the Recliner. Well maybe if you count a lot of faint star. Cetus come up before Taurus and swims farther to the South.

Delphinus, the Dolphin, is a tiny little constellation just behind Cygnus' tail. I would have left it out except that I already ditched Equuleus and Sagitta and I had to have something in this part of the Sky.

Coma Berenices

Coma Berenices - Bernice's Hair (not a comb) is one of the faintest constellations but one which I find endlessly fascinating. It has no star as bright as the fourth magnitude, but a whole cluster of stars brighter than the fifth. These are glints off Bernice's long tresses. However, the true beauty of this constellation is not her hair but the ornaments in her hair. Galaxies - hundreds of them all over the constellation.

Corona Borealis

The Crown of the North was fashioned by Vulcan for Adriadne [or maybe Amphitrite or Maera. (Myths aren't always that clear)]. Calling this circlet a crown is probably a bit much, it is more like a homecoming queen's tiara.

Sometimes this constellations is called Adriadne's Coil (Golden Braids on her Head) as a companion piece to Bernice's Hair. In spite of her finery, Adriadne life wasn't all wine and roses. Her father was Minos of Crete. At Gnosos, like other youths and maidens, she was fated to enter the Maze of the Minataur. Adriadne never got the credit for her escape with Theseus. [She unraveled her skirt and followed the thread back out]. However, Theseus married and then quickly deserted her. After another failed marriage to Bacchus (who was a lush beyond the wildest characterizations of Jim Bacchus as the original Mr. MaGoo) she had her scalp and its crown placed in the sky. Bummer - most people placed in the stars managed togo whole. Her Dad who never did anything except send his daughter into the Minataur at least got to be Pluto's judge of the dead.

This constellation is known as the

	The Sisters (The wives of White Hawk<arcturus>) [Shawnee]
	Wreath of Flowers [Greece]
	Diadem of Heaven [Europe around 1500]


The Crow or Raven was the sacred bird of Apollo. The Raven was always associated with divination and fore knowledge. Because Corvus is nestled in the coils of Hydra [water snake] next to Crater [Cup], the following story is apt. Corvus was sent with the cup to retrieve some water for Phoebus. On his way he saw some figs ripening in the Sun and he loitered until they were perfect whereupon he gorged himself. He needed an excuse and grabbed a small water snake when he returned. In spite of an intricate lie he dreamed up, Phoebus wasn't fooled. The God tossed the Raven, the Cup and the Snake into the heavens. Since the snake was blameless it grew huge, enfolding the Cup and Raven.

Corvus was also the Bird of the Satyrs, the Raven of Rome, Great Storm Bird, Bird of the Desert and Noah's Raven.

Alchiba, the brightest star in Corvus is only fourth magnitude Alchiba is a contraction of Al Minliar al Ghurab [Raven's Beak] although don't ask me how one became the other.


We have already seen the story of the Cup and the Raven. This Cup was also know as an Urn, a Pot and even a Mixing Bowl. Its ownership is attributed to Apollo , Bacchus , Hercules, Achilles, Dido, Demophoon and Medea. I can just see all these mythical characters in my mind sending the darn thing to the next person as a gift.

It has also been attributed to the Holy Grail.


Cygnus was son of Mars. Why Mars begot a swan, I'll leave to someone far more competant in mythogenetics than I. Because, Cygnus was a swan we get mixed up in the story of Leda and Jupiter appearing to her as a lover boy swan.

As mentioned elsewhere the Arabians thought the barnyard fowl was a hen rather than a swan. It was also assumed to be the humongous bird called the Roc. The people of the Euphrates river valley called this bird Urakhga. It was here that man first cultivated grain and from this discovery began civilization.

Cygnus is also called the Northern Cross with Deneb as its head and Albirio was the foot of the cross. It was only a short step from here to where it was also called the Cross of Calvary.


Eriadnus is one of a couple of heavenly rivers. Indus is the other. With the exception of Achernar in the far South which is as bright as Betelquese, Eriadnus has no star brighter than the third magnitude. Most people have never seen Eriadnus as such and yet it is the longest constellation in the sky. It starts at the Equator and moves south in a long twisting path until it is within 30 degrees of the South Pole.


Hercules was the son of Alkmena and Jupiter. For this story see Mercury, who was the go between in this oddest of tales of seduction. Hercules was charged with 12 impossible labors which he managed to accomplish. For example he cleared out the Augean stables which had centuries of manure by diverting a river. He also strangled a being who could not be defeated as long as he touched his mother [the Earth] by lifting his opponent. These labors have become associated with the 12 constellations of the Zodiac but no obvious connections exist.

The Phoenicians thought this constellation was Melkarth the equivalent of Neptune. Since the Phoenicians were a sailing nation, this sea god was their principle deity.

We normally see Hercules as a man standing spread eagle, but many early people saw Hercules as kneeling. In the kneeling pose, Hercules appears to be attacking the head of Serpens with a club. Fifteen stars of the fourth magnitude or brighter outline Hercules' body and club.

The brightest star RasAlgethi [Kneeler Head] can only be a head if the constellation is viewed upside down. It is a variable star changing from the second to the fourth maganitude. It has a reddish and a bluish component and unlike Algol (see Andromeda), RasAlgethi has an irregular cycle. M13, the Great Globular Cluster is one of the most magnificent objects in the sky.


The Lyre is none other than the instrument that Orpheus took into the underground to return with his dead wife Euridice. The Lyre was fashioned by Mercury and played by Apollo before Apollo in turn gave it to his son - Orpheus. Orpheus was also the musician on the Argo.

In Persia, the Instrument became the Lyre of Zurah. The Assemani decided this instrument was a Cymbal. In Europe, it was a Fiddle. Often it was also call King David's Harp. Not everyone sees this as an instrument; sometimes it is a tortoise shell. The Chinese saw this constellation as the Spinning Wheel or the Spinning Damsel.

Vega, the brightest star in the constellation anchors the Summer Triangle with Deneb and Altair. Most of us look to this constellation to M57 the Ring Nebula.


Monoceros, The Unicorn, should be a source of wonderful myths but it isn't. Located between Canis Major and Minor (Procyon and Sirius), and immediately adjacent to Orion, one can imagine all sorts of legends about the brave death of the Unicorn at these hunters hands and teeth, but I cannot find any such blood thirsty tale. As far as I can tell, the ancients did not recognize any such constellation. It may have been the creation of John Flamsteed, although Scaliger found a representation of it on an early Arabian globe.

Ophiuchus and Serpens

Ophiuchus, the serpent handler and Serpens form an odd pair. In fact Serpens was listed as Serpens Cauda (Snake's Tail) and Serpens Caput (Snakes Head). The remainder of the snake is behind Ophiuchus. Sometimes Ophiuchus is slaying the snake with Hercules' help. Other times Ophiuchus and the Snake are intertwined into the Caduceus - the symbol of medical help. Ophiuchus is often associated with Aesculapius the ship's sugeon on the Argo.

Although Ophiuchus is not part of the Zodiac, more of the Ecliptic passes through it than adjacent Scorpio. At one time, it was not clear which stars belonged to one or the other of these constellations.


Orion is in many respects the greatest constellation in the sky. Only Crux in the far south has more brighter stars. 8 stars are third magnitude or brighter, at least 38 stars are fifth magnitude or brighter. Orion was a Hunter - a much too successful hunter in the eyes of Diana. Worse yet his good looks made girls swoon, and Diana, the protectress of maidens found this unacceptable. She fashioned a new animal who could take Orion down (see Scorpio).

While we are talking about the constellation Orion which the Arabian's knew as the Central One or the Giant, I can't resist talking about the name development of Alpha Orionis. It was originally called Ibt al Jauzah which has the malodorous translation arm pit of the central giant. You may also come across Mankib [Shoulder], Dhira [Arm] and even Yad al Yamma [Right Hand] in old maps describing this star. Somehow, this name degenerated into Bed el Gueze and from there made its way to Betelgeuse.


Pegasus was the son of Neptune and Medusa (or more correctly drops of blood from her severed head which fell into the sea). Pegasus is often painted by renaissance painters with Cupid, although there was no mythological connection. Pegasus is of course a winged steed.

Walt Disney took many Pegasii and had them frolicing in a sylvan setting while the Beethoven's Sixth Symphony (The Pastoral) played in the background. When Jupiter and Vulcan arrive and begin to fling around thunderbolts, upsetting not only the Winged Horses but poor old Bacchus who has his wine crushing activities interrupt in a flood of wine.

The brightest star in Pegasus is Markab which came from the Arabic Matn al Faras meaning the Horse's Shoulder. This star is an ill sign to ancient astrologers who saw it has a source of wounds.

The most spectacular part of this constellation is the Great Square which many of us use as a reference object in the sky


If Sagitta, the arrow, was shot from the bow of Sagittarius, the Archer, then anyone standing to his side is in more danger than wherever he aimed. It streaks between Aquila and Cygnus, past the Fox and is aimed directly at the head of Pegasus.

Sagitta is easily lost in the Milky Way. However, if you spot it with the aid of binoculars, it really is arrow shaped. From its shape, several other names have arisen, the Spear, the Javelin and the Dart.

The Sun

Every society has recognized the crucial life sustaining power of the Sun. However, not every society who had elemental deities made the Sun the central god. For example, Jupiter , the god of the Sky and Storms was considered more powerful than Apollo {Helios to the Greeks}. Ahmen Ra, the Sun god of Tutenkhamen's Egypt was an anomaly that only last his lifetime, before the multiple gods replaced the single Sun god.

The Romans (using the Greek's model) considered the Sun too important to be left to a single god, so they dreamed up a chief god Apollo and Sol who was sort of a caretaker who ran the Sun whenever Apollo was off doing something important like healing the dead. This dual god system allowed stories to be told about the Sun without frightening the faithful. For example, due to his lax attention, Sol allowed the Sun Steeds to run wild carrying the Sun to low over Africa. This, the ancients believed, was why people's from south of the Mediterranean lands were darker skinned.

Sunspots can be seen with the naked eye whenever clouds dim the solar disk enough to keep it from being dazzling. However, not all people admitted to seeing them. There was a tradition, inherited from Greek Philosophy, and used to buttress certain medieval religious ideas, the heavens were perfect. The Moon was an acception, getting smudges by being too close to an imperfect world. So in the west, there were long gaps when no reports were kept of sunspot activity while the Chinese reported the activity carefully.

The Earth

Earth is personified as Terra {Gaia to the Greeks} in myths. Mother Earth long predates Greek and Rome legends. Even the peoples predating the agricultural revolution recognized the Earth's fecundity. Before large tracks were cultivated, I am certain that what we would call kitchen gardens existed.

The Moon

The Moon was a problem to the ancients. It changed. Worse yet it changed in a cycle which closely approximated a woman's fertility. This made it somehow dark, mysterious and taboo. Mythically, the Moon is Diana, Luna, Selene, and Hecate. All of these are attributes associated with Diana, goddess of the hunt, animals and unmarried women. Diana was of course the sister of Apollo.

As Luna, this goddess was associated with insanity - literally lunacy. In her Hecate avatar, Diana was a dark witch like being full of strange cruelties and magics. Only in her Selene attribute was she seen as a goddess of the sky.

The Moon had another problem. The heavens were presumed to be perfect. The Moon, even to the unaided eye has dark patches. To many early people, the "Old Man in the Moon" looked like a rabbit or a hare. In the Hindu story, a Hare and two other animals were visited by the god Indra posing as a beggar. Hospitality demanded that the animals provide a meal. The other animals found food but the Hare came back empty handed. Not to fail in his duty he threw himself on the fire to allow his guest to eat. Indra took his body and placed it on the Moon for all to see.

The American Indians, if the poem Hiawatha by Longfellow is to be credited, thought that an Indian brave became so angry at his mother-in-law that he killed her and threw body into the sky. The body landed on the Moon for all to see the brave's crime.

Danish folk lore had it that the Moon was a wheel of curing cheese. This is the basis for the famous story that the Moon is made of Green cheese. Personally, I prefer Roquefort, a blue cheese but you can have everything.


Mercury {Hermes to the Greeks} was the good of swift fleet footedness. Mercury is the son of Jupiter and Maia (see the Pleiades). He is the patron of messengers, elegance, commerce and thieves alike. Mercury was always a youthful god, given to pranks. He often teamed up with Jupiter to fool Juno long enough for Jupiter to dilly dally with his latest lady love. This is only reasonable since without Jupiter's successful dalliance with Maia, Mercury never would have existed.

Without doubt, my favorite tale of Mercury and Jupiter is in Jean Giradoux's Amphitryon 38. According to Giradoux, a twentieth century playwright, this story of the perfect husband [Amphitryon] and the perfect wife [Alkmena] had been told by 37 authors before him. Essentially, Jupiter desires Alkmena. However she spurns any advances except from her husband. Although Jupiter can ravish Alkmena, he won't do it if it means her suicide. After trying one ploy after another Mercury comes up with the solution - Jupiter must become even more Amphitryon-like than Amphitryon himself. Jupiter does this and in the process fathers Hercules on the same night that Amphitryon also father's Hercules' half-twin (and mortal) brother. Jupiter is totally successful, but in doing so he is totally defeated. Generally, the play is done with twins, or two look alikes, but the most outrageous production I've seen had Jupiter as Amphitryon look absolutely nothing like Amphitryon.

Mercury, the planet, is so close to the Sun, that of all the planets, its orbit cannot be accurately predicted by Newtonian physics. The gravity of the Sun, a Mercury's diminutive mass cause the main axis of the orbital ellipses to precess so that Mercury never retraces its path exactly. If you remember the toy call the Spirograph, Mercury's orbit looks like the trace of the Spirograph pen.

Mercury turn so slowly that three of its days takes two of its years! Science fiction writers used to write plots based on Mercury keeping the same face to the Sun all the time much as the Moon always faces the Earth. Issac Asimov had a locked room science fiction mystery whose solution required a knowledge [now fallacious] of Mercury always pointing the same way.


Venus {Aphrodite to the Greeks} in mythology was the twin sister of Mars. Both of these deities were willful and head strong, but what one tried to get through warfare the other tried to get with her charms. Literally all's fair in love and war. Venus had a number of offspring but by far and away the most famous was Cupid.

Weirdly enough, Venus was married to the lame god Vulcan {Hephaistos to the Greeks}. Vulcan was brilliant if partially crippled. His forge was Mount Vesuvius a volcano. Although he was the god of volcanoes, he wasn't the god of earthquakes. This was left to Neptune for reasons we will soon learn. Vulcan forged Jupiter's thunderbolts, he fashioned Mercury's winged sandals, Minerva's shield, and he built Apollo's chariot - the Sun. He was well aware that his wife spent great amounts of time and effort bedding everyone but himself, but he never seemed to get too disturbed. Placing Commander Spock's home on Vulcan seems very appropriate for such a race of intellectual and reserved beings.

Venus is probably the most poorly named planet. Far from being a loving and seductive place, the sky's are sullen red, and churn boiling sulfuric acid into permanent clouds. The surface is hotter than any other "terrestrial" planet, even Mercury which is much closer to the Sun. Venus' North and South poles are reversed from the other planets. North is determined by the direction of rotation and Venus slowly turns backwards.

A long list of early science fiction writers from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Ray Bradbury imagined Venus as a steamy rainy swampy planet. So far, armed with modern knowledge of the surface, only Pamela Sergeant has come up with stories as evocative as the rainy Venus. Indeed, her Venus was one being terraformed (converted to being Earth like) and was awaiting the rains.


Mars {Ares to the Greeks} was the mad god of war. Unlike the goddess Minerva who sanctioned noble and worthy wars, Mars would do anything to participate in war. He didn't care which side he fought on - often switching sides to prolong the conflict. He is associated with the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse - Panic, Fear, Starvation and Disease. Even today, Mars has left his mark on science because two of the Four Horsemen Demos (Panic) and Phobos (Fear) are his two moons.

Mars the planet has been the object of our interest in science fiction for at least a hundred years. From John Carter and Deja Thoris to the Martian Chronicles, Mars has been the object of great interest. Unlike Venus, our old stories of Mars stand up better. True, there is no dying civilization trying to survive along planet wide canals, but Mars was imagined and is in fact, dry with a thin unbreathable atmosphere.


Poor Juno {Hera to the Greeks} gets an awful lot of bad press in myths. She is the goddess of hearth, and marriage. With Jupiter as a husband, with his unbounded appetite for the fair sex, Juno has to put up with a lot. So I've added Juno even though she is only an asteroid.

Juno was helpless against Jupiter but taking it out on his mortal lovers doesn't strike me as turn about is fair play. In most cases, the lovers didn't have any choice in the matter. Leda loved looking at swans - so Jupiter took her in the guise of a swan. Europa was a shepherdess - so Jupiter took her in the form of a bull. Alkmena was utterly faithful - so Jupiter took her by becoming a dead ringer for her husband. Not only did these ladies not entice Jupiter, they weren't even aware he was around until they found themselves in bed with him.

The symbol for Juno is similar to all the other asteroids. In each case, the number indicates the order of discovery. Juno was the third asteroid discovered (after Ceres and Vesta).


Jupiter {Zeus to the Greeks} was the principle God of the Olympians. In his domain, he was invincible when he put himself out, but he had to yield to his brother Neptune and Pluto if he visited the sea or the underground. Oddly, Jupiter was the baby of the family. Juno and his two powerful brothers, along with another eight lesser deities were born earlier. Jupiter gained his prominence because of the circumstances of his birth. He was the Sun of two Titans Saturn and Terra. Saturn knew that one of his children would kill him and replace him as the chief deity. Saturn decided he could avoid problems by eating his children as they were born. Although the deities were immortal, nothing precluded their being swallowed. Now Terra didn't thing much of the idea of Saturn swallowing her new borns, so when it came to Jupiter, she fed Saturn a rock in bundle of baby cloths, thus sparing Jupiter. You can fill in the obvious details, except that as a reward for his good deed, Jupiter was allowed to pick one of his sisters as his wife. Yes, you guessed it, it was Juno the oldest sister who made Jupiter's mistresses lives so miserable since she couldn't do anything to Jupiter himself.

Traces of Jupiter's dalliances remain visible to today. I refer of course to two of the jovian moons, Callisto (who was made the Great Bear) and Europa. Io was another of Jupiter's conquests, who ran a foul of Juno's wrath. Junu changed her into a heifer, but Jupiter restored her original form. Ganymede is the Cup Bearer to the greater gods, and Jupiter's personal gofer. I've recounted the stories of Leda [and the Swan Jupiter], Alkmena [and Jupiter posing as Amphitryon], but so far I haven't mentioned anything about Europa. She like Leda, had a "thing" about animals. Leda liked swans, and Europa was a shepherdess. Guess what form Jupiter donned to avoid Juno's watchful eye. I'm sure both Europa and Juno thought that his disguise was a lot of bull when they figured it out. Many of Jupiter's other lovers are his satellites, Elara, Pasiphae, Lysithea, Thebe, and Adrasta. The remaining satellites are very minor Roman Olympic deities.

Jupiter, as befits his kingly status is the greatest of the planets. In fact, Jupiter is almost as large as a planet can be in volume. If you add much more material to Jupiter, it will begin to shrink from a greater gravitational pull. Inside Jupiter, a greater portion of its hydrogen will assume the metallic rather than the gaseous or liquid states. If you managed to combine Jupiter with 8 to 10 other similar bodies, something odd would happen, heavy hydrogen would find conditions hot enough and dense enough to fuse. This would raise the temperature just enough to lower the density and fusion would cease only to restart when the pressure built up again. If you managed to bring together 15 Jupiter's, the temperature at the core would reach 15 million degrees Kelvin and the pressure would remain high enough to begin fusing normal hydrogen. As Hollywood says - a Star is Born. But what a puny little star, smaller in diameter than Jupiter and just warm enough so that its surface would dimly glow in the deepest red tones. This little star is a brown dwarf, not to be confused with Uncle Walt's Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho gang.


Saturn {Cronos to the Greeks} is the murkiest of the deities. He is vaguely associated with time, the distant past and sad endings. In Roman mythology he was the god of agriculture as befits the husband of Terra. Someone with a jovial disposition is fun loving and grand like Jupiter. A saturnine individual is morose and gloomy.

Saturn has various Titans as his attendants. Of course, Titan is a Titan. So is Epimetheus [hind sight], Prometheus [fore sight], Pandora [she who let out every woe man is subject to from her box], and Pan [the great god of the Satyrs and forest creatures]. Prometheus who gave fire to mankind, was punished by Jupiter because this power made mankind more nearly equal to the gods. He was punished by having his liver eaten every day by an eagle (see Aquila), and have it regrow at night. Prometheus knows however that one day one of Jupiter's children (actually Hercules) would save him.

Saturn is a gas giant about half the size of Jupiter. Unlike Jupiter who's gravity makes it quite dense, Saturn is lighter than water.


Uranus {Ouranos to the Greeks} was the original god of the Sky and the original husband of Terra. He is the father of the Titans, the avenging Furies and the one eyed Cyclops. He was killed and supplanted by his sons Saturn. He is sometimes identified with time (as was his son Saturn) but he is also identified with formless chaos. Historically Uranus predates the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons. His myths (such as they are) are largely forgotten.

All the planets save one have a natural group of deities for satellites names. Uranus is not associated with any group of deities. This is a problem because Uranus has a lot of satellites, albeit small ones. The IAU stepped in and deemed that Uranus' natural satellite names were those of the heroines and magical beings found in Shakespearean plays. That is how Titania, Oberon, Puck (Robin Goodfellow), Ariel, Calaban, Sycoryx, Miranda, and Juliette had their names appended to Uranian moons.


Neptune (Poseidon to the Greeks} was an imported god from the Middle East. He was given status by becoming a full brother of Jupiter along with Pluto. [Actually Poseidon was a blend by the Greeks of two earlier fertile crescent gods with similar characteristics. Posei and Dan shared the attributes of sea deity, but one was a breeder of horses and the other shook the Earth with quakes. We think of Neptune as the great sea god, but he was equally significant as the earth shaker to people in the Mediterranean basin.

Neptune is one of the most ignificant gods in the Homeric Epics, taking sides with Troy and taking a specific hatred of Odyseus/Ullyses. Ullyses (Greek - Odyseus) earned Neptune's wrath by creating the means for overcoming Troy (Greek - Illium) - the famous Trojan Horse. The sacking of Troy is the subject of the Illiad. Later Ullyses would double Neptune's hatred by killing Polyphemus Neptune's favorite monster (and in some accounts also a son of Neptune). Jupiter forbade Neptune from actually killing Ullyses but while Ullyses was on Neptune's domain, Jupiter could not actually stop Neptune from arranging delays (adding up to more than twenty years). The epic journey would become the story we know as the Odysee.

Neptune is accompanied by sea deities - the most significant being Triton, a sort of half man half sea horse beast with a great horn. Other of his attendants are Proteus (who is a shape changer) and guess who - the Nereids who gave Andromeda so much grief.


Pluto {Hades to the Greeks} is one of the three great gods along with his brothers Jupiter and Neptune. He chose last and got the crummiest territory. Worse yet, his name, at least his Greek name became the place name of the dead. Hades (the place) was where every soul, good, bad and indifferant went. The drank from the stream of forgetfulness (Lythos) and slowly drifted off into non existance.

Being a god with a raw deal, Pluto sulks a great deal. The most famous myth associated with him is the story of his abduction of Persephone from her mother Ceres (see Virgo).

Actually, the planet Pluto also has the coldest nastiest part of the solar system. His attendant, Charon, the ferryman across the river Styx [the river of no return], is as gloomy as Pluto. Charon is by far the largest satellite with regards to its planet. So much so that Pluto/Charon should be considered coplanets if they are considered planets at all. Many satellites throughout the solar system are bigger than Pluto.

Other Constellations


    is an Air Pump or Bellows. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Bird of Paradise. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is an Altar. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Chisel. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Giraffe. This constellation is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.


    is the Keel of the ship Argo. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    The Centaur is variously assumed to be Chiron or Philyrides. Centaurs as a group were wild dangerous creatures, but Chiron was wise and honorable, and Philyrides (a son of Saturn and half brother of Jupiter, Juno, Neptune and Pluto) was a peaceable musician. Certainly they were nothing like wild man Sagitarius who races about shooting arrows everywhere.

    Centaurs arose when agrarian people in the fertile crescent were suddenly faced with a new threat of mounted rides with bows from the plains of Scythia. It was easy to mistaken a horse and rider for a single terrible being. Interestingly this mistake was repeated when native American first saw mounted Spanish Conquistidores. Again the legend of werewolves arose when a man and his dog seemed to be one being. We may smile at their naivitee, but consider how terrifying a Cyborg Warrior would be if one of our nations decided to meld a human with armored arms, legs and weapons.

    Of all the unseen southern constellations, none hold more personal fascination to me than does Centaurus. The idea that here were the nearest stars Alpha 1 and 2 Centauri with Promixa circling them captured my imagination as a boy and it has never left me. For these stars alone, it was theoretically possible to travel there within five years. This was magic to a ten year old astronomer. I've always hoped to travel to the southern hemisphere to see Centaurus, the Magellenic Clouds and the Southern Cross. Given the choice of seeing a Solar Eclipse or these constellations and galaxies, I would give up the eclipse without the slightest regret. Someday, hopefully not too many years from now.

    This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see, except for a few dim stars.


    is a Chameleon. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Drafting Compass. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Dove. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.

Corona Austrinus

    is the Southern Crown. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is the Southern Cross. It is the smallest constellation but has the highest percentage of very brilliant stars. It lie between the Centaur's legs. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Goldfish. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Foal (young horse). This constellation is dim and does not having any interesting folk lore.

Fornax [Chemica]

    is a [Chemical] Furnace. Modern usage drops "chemical". Had Abbe LaCaille named it today, it probably would have been called the Bunsen Burner! Their are no bright stars in Fornax. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Stork. Actually, this group of stars ios aptly named, the outline is clearly a stork or possible a crane. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Water Clock. Water clocks, which operate by slow drips, were used instead of pendulum clocks aboard ships. Until the creations of the spring loaded flywheel and chronometers, keeping time aboard ships was difficult. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is the River Indus. This constellation is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.


    is a Lizard. This constellation is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.

Leo Minor

    is a Small Lion (possibly a cub). This constellation is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.


    is a Lynx (puma). This constellation is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.


    is a Table. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Microscope. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a HouseFly, although it probably should be called the bug. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.

Norma [et Regula]

    is a Carpenter's T-Square. Originally it also had a Carpenter's Spirit Level. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is an Octant, a forerunner of the Sextant. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Peacock. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is the mythical Bird which Rises from its own Ashes. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Painter's Easel. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.

Pisces Austinus

    is a Southern Fish. It brightest star Formalhaut is blue white star quite similar to Sirius. but since it is more than twice the distance it is less than a quarter as bright. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is the Poop Deck of the ship Argo. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Magnetic Compass on the ship Argo. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is an Eyepiece. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Sculptor's studio. The later part of the name has been dropped. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is the Shield. This is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.


    is a Sextant. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Telescope. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Triangle. Do not confuse this with the brilliant Summer Triangle Asterism formed of Vega, Deneb and Altair. This constellation is dim and does not have any interesting folk lore.

Triangulum Austrinus

    is the Southern Triangle. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Toucan. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    are the sails of the ship Argo. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.


    is a Flying Fish. This constellation lies too far south of FDO for us to see.

Also Rans

    One of the things which is fun is to look at the "Also Rans" - constellations that tried but didn't quite make it. I'm not talking about whole other system such as the Arabic and Chinese designations, but ones which tried to fit into the cracks between existing constellations. There are quite a bunch!


    This wasEmperor Hadrian male companion. It was under Altair.

Argo Navis

    This was the huge ship Argo, now broken intp Pyxis, Vela, Carina and Puppis.


    This was the guard dog of Hades (the underworld, not the deity). It was near Hercules.

Custos Messium

    This was the Custodian of the Granery. It was near Polaris.

Frederici Honores

    This was in honor of Frederick the Great. It was again near Polaris.

Robur Corolinum

    This is the Robe of Charles - an attempt to rename Canes Venetici by Flamsteed and Halley in honor of their patron King Charles.

Globus Aerostaticus

    I'm sorry this one didn't make it. It translates as the Balloon. It was another name for Microscopium.


    This is the Flamingo, an attempt to rename Grus.

Mons Menelaus

    This is Mount Menelaus which was placed near Bootes.

Musca Borealis

    We already had a southern fly, who thought we needed a Northern Fly? This was a group of stars on the back of Aries the ram.


    This was the night Owl. Cool! It was a piec cut out of Hydra which is too long anyways.

Nebecula Major [Minor] Magellani

    LaCaille didn't know what the Greater [Lesser] Magellenic Clouds were, so he tried to make them constellations in their own right.

Offici Typographica

    This was the Printing Office, an area around Sirius.

Harpa Georgi

    Yet another attempt to curry royal favor. This is George's Harp, which was a rename of Taurus. Nice try, but not quite.


    This was a Quadrant. Enough already with a Setant and an Octant. It was near Hercules.


This was exactly four stars making a Sceptre along side Lepus.


    This awful sounding name isn't what you think. Turdus is the family of birds containing the Robin. This was yet another attempt to cut pieces from Hydra.

Charles Messier

As we unwind from our long sessions with fabulous (literally fabeled) beings, mythical deities, and magical events, let me slightly correct a myth that we at FDO have been all too assiduous in telling. While it is true that Charles Messier did make a list of objects to avoid while looking for comets, he wasn't totally a dunce.

He recognized many of these objects. For example, there is no way that any seasoned observer could ever mistake the Pleiades or the Hyades for a comet. He must have included these simply for recreational viewing and to discuss them with his compatriots.

We should also remember that Messier was highly regarded by his contemporaries. He was given the sobriquet "Comet Ferret" because he was so diligent and sucessful in locating comets. It wasn't until the twentieth century that any individual was more successful in finding them.

This document was authored by Les Coleman and is subject to Copyrights belonging to Les Coleman. This material may be referenced and reproduced as long as proper attribution is given as specified in Proper Usage Guidelines for Frosty Drew and Related Materials.