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Constellations

Constellation: an arbitrary formation of stars perceived as a figure or design, especially one of 88 recognized groups named after characters from classical mythology and various common animals and objects.

  • The following are examples of constellations described by John Klein active member of the AACC Astronomy Club.

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Ursa Major (The Big Bear) and Ursa Minor (The Little Bear) 

Jupiter married a beautiful earth maiden named Callisto. This enraged his goddess wife, Juno who sought revenge on Callisto by taking away her beauty – she turned Callisto into a mangy bear. One day while hunting, Callisto’s son, Arcas, was about to shoot a bear with an arrow when Jupiter intervened. The bear Arcas was about to shoot was his mother. Jupiter turned Arcas into a bear to join his mother (Ursa Minor). He grasped both bears by their tails and heaved them up into the heavens where they landed near the North Pole. The bears were so heavy, the strain on their tails caused them to be stretched to the unusual lengths seen in their constellations.

Cassiopeia (the vain queen)

Queen Cassiopeia was married to King Cepheus, ruler of Ethiopia. Queen Cassiopeia was beautiful and vain. She was put up in the night sky to punish her for her vanity. She revolves around the night sky in a circle and is sometimes upside-down in the chair, hanging on for dear life. This is very humiliating for a queen so proud of her beauty.

Andromeda (the chained maiden)

Daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Queen Cassiopeia constantly boasted about her beauty and her daughter’s beauty. She even boasted that they were more beautiful than Nereids, the Goddess of the Sea.  Nereids complained to Poseidon, the God of the Sea, and demanded that Cassiopeia be punished. Poseidon agreed and summoned a terrible sea monster, Cetus, to destroy Cassiopeia’s kingdom. The monster began killing many people and cattle. King Cepheus asked the advice of an Oracle who told him the only way to get rid of the sea monster was to offer his daughter, Andromeda, as a sacrifice. He reluctantly agreed and chained Andromeda to a rocky island by her wrists and ankles. Perseus happened upon Andromeda while he was returning from a journey where he killed the dreaded Medusa. He killed Cetus and saved Andromeda. The two were married and had a long, happy life together. When they died, Athena gave them honored places in the sky. Andromeda is seen stretched out at full length and chained by her ankles and wrists to the rocky island where she was being offered as a sacrifice to Cetus, the Sea Monster. Alpheratz - a blue subgiant.

Aries (the ram): March 21 to April 20

Phrixus and Helle were twins. Their stepmother wanted to get rid of them. She roasted all of the seeds in the land so the seeds wouldn’t grow. The people were fearful of famine when the seeds weren’t growing. The people sent several men to an Oracle to find out what to do. The stepmother bribed the men on their way back to lie and say that the only way to save the people was to offer Phrixus and Helle as a sacrifice. The twins’ natural mother, Nephele, summoned a flying Ram with golden fleece, Aries, to rescue her children. Phrixus and Helle both climbed onto the ram's back and were carried off through the air. Poor Helle was unable to hang on and fell to her death. Phrixus managed to hang on and was carried by Aries to a land where the King, Aeetes, treated him with kindness. Now that the golden ram's work was done, the ram commanded Phrixus to sacrifice him to the gods and remove his golden fleece. Phrixus did and presented the golden fleece to King Aeetes, who was delighted with the gift. The King hung the fleece in the sacred Grove of Ares, where there lived a dragon who never slept and guarded the golden fleece. The fleece shown so brilliantly that it bathed the surrounding countryside in a warm golden light, even at night.  The brave and generous ram was given an eternal place in the sky as the constellation Aries. It is said that this constellation is so dim because at the time the ram was immortalized it no longer had its brightly shining fleece. Aries signifies the beginning of spring when it is the closest zodiac constellation to the sun. Hamal - orange giant.

Pisces (the two fishes): February 20 to March 20

There was a monstrous god named Typhon, who was determined to overthrow Zeus and his entire group of gods. The immortal followers of Zeus fled into Egypt in exile. Zeus remained behind to do battle and eventually conquer Typhon. One day Aphrodite and her son, Eros, were walking along a riverbank when they sensed the presence of the monstrous god, Typhon. They plunged into the river where they took the form of fishes and escaped. To this day we see them as the Northern Fish and the Western Fish of Pisces.

Pegasus (the winged horse)

When Perseus killed the dreaded Medusa by chopping off her head and hair of snakes, Neptune, who had loved Medusa when she was young, created Pegasus from white beach sand, rainbow-colored foam from breaking waves, and drops of blood from Medusa’s head. Pegasus carried Perseus back to his town.

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