“Gateway to the Stars” on January 7

Mike Murray

We may have passed the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21, when the sun takes its lowest path across the sky) and the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” (Dec. 25, when the ancient Romans first noticed the sun’s path climbing higher again), but the nights are still long as winter marches on. This is also the season when we get to see the stars come out early. Familiar winter constellations are now burning cold and bright, like Taurus the Bull and Orion the Hunter.

Taurus the Bull winter constellation

Taurus the Bull winter constellation

The cold weather might seem like a deterrent to winter stargazing but it can actually be quite enjoyable and rewarding with just a little preparation. Before going outside, check out the locations of the objects you want to observe. That will help you find them quickly and easily. Star dome charts and star maps are readily available online, or you can get night sky software that allows you to customize the view for your location and time.

Also, remember the first rule of observing: Make yourself comfortable! Plenty of warm clothing (especially thin, warm gloves for handling cold metal binoculars or telescope eyepieces). Occasional breaks for hot cocoa (Earl Grey works for me!). A red-filtered flashlight for reading charts outside. And position your viewing spot so that bright lights are blocked by trees, buildings, etc.

Ok so now that you’re all comfy, what are your celestial rewards? The three stars of Orion’s Belt are making their appearance in the eastern sky, making for one of the best “pointers” in the winter sky. Draw them upward and to the right and you’ll find Aldebaran, the fiery orange eye of Taurus the Bull. But keep that imaginary line going still higher and you’ll find the most famous winter star cluster of all – the Pleiades (commonly known as “The Seven Sisters”). There are many legends connected to the Pleiades, but one of my favorites come from the Chippewa People called “The Seven Dancing Brothers.” We will retell this story in the show.

What are the Pleiades in actual outer space? What about Venus and Jupiter? What else is in the January sky? Come join us for “Gateway to the Stars” Saturday, Jan. 7 at 6:45 p.m. and see for yourself!

Tickets for this presentation are $1 at the ticket window or $2 online. Members are free.

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One thought on ““Gateway to the Stars” on January 7

  1. Hope these help and make you smile like they did us. thank you for always being willing to talk after the programs.

    Pleiades Cherokee myth

    The following myth is Cherokee in origin. However, the Seneca, who coincidentally were once great enemies of the Cherokee, have a very similar myth. I also found something resembling the same myth in a couple of other Native American tribes. I’m not sure exactly where the myth originated, but I find it interesting that it spread across various Indian nations.
    As the story goes, there was once a group of friends – seven boys – who always played together. In fact, they did everything together; often losing track of time and not reporting home for dinner as their mothers had instructed.
    One day, the boys were out playing one of their favorite games, which involved rolling a wheel along the ground with a stick. Each boy did better than the one before him and, before long, they had spent hours laughing, playing, and teasing one another.
    “Oh, no!” cried one young brave, as he glanced at the sun beginning to set in the sky. “We are late again. We must hurry and go now.”
    Although clearly no one was ready to go home, they gathered their things and shuffled off toward the village. They were greeted at the edge of the village by all seven of their mothers who were clearly angry that they had, once again, broken the rules.
    “Will you never learn?” questioned one mother. “Will you never show us respect?” questioned another. “The answer is clear,” said a third. “Since you cannot come home in time for dinner, then you will have to make your own,” the third mother announced. “Here, use these stones for corn to make your soup.”
    The boys were angry at being scolded and even angrier that their mothers dared to offer them nothing to eat but stone soup. “What did we do that was so wrong?” questioned young brave.
    “If our mothers don’t love us, I say we go away and bother them no more,” announced another. The other boys agreed and, together, all headed away from their village to the nearby hills where they always played.
    Once there, they began to dance and chant. “Spirits of our people, take us into the sky so blue. Our mothers no longer want us and we wish to be with you.”
    Over and over they danced and chanted their rhyme. For hours they continued without once halting.
    Back in the village, one of the mothers decided that she should check to see in which friend’s home her son was hiding. However, as she traveled from home to home to find that none of the boys could be found, she began to worry that something was wrong.
    The seven mothers gathered together and headed toward the hills where their sons played. As they grew closer, they saw the boys dancing and singing their chant.
    “Look!” cried one mother in abject fear. “They are dancing off of the ground. We must hurry or they will be gone forever.”
    As the mothers grew closer, their fear and panic took hold. They realized that they might not be able to reach their sons, who now danced above their heads.
    Each jumped and tried to grab her son, but only one was able to reach hers. Grabbing hold and yanking as hard as she could, the mother pulled her son to the ground so hard that he hit the earth with a thud, forming a hole into which he fell with the earth enclosing around him.
    As she fell to her knees in tears, she looked to see the other six boys had now danced into the clouds and could no longer be seen. In what seemed like mere seconds, all seven mothers had lost their most prized possessions.
    It is said that the seven mothers never again laughed or smiled, since in a single moment they had lost that which brought them the most joy. Each day they returned to the place where they are lost their sons. While six of them looked toward the skies in prayer, the seventh fell to the earth, soaking it with her tears of grief.
    Day after day; week after week; month after month they continued their trek. One day, the six mothers noticed stars had formed exactly where they last saw their sons. They are called the Pleiades. On the site where her son fell to the ground, the seventh mother noticed a tiny pine tree had begun to grow.
    That, they say, is why the pine tree has always been one of the most sacred trees to the Cherokee people. It is also why they look to the Pleiades to pray. It is a reminder that life can change in an instant; bringing you untold joy or immeasurable grief.

    another version

    Long ago, when the world was new, there were seven boys who used to spend all their time down by the townhouse playing the gatayû’stï game, rolling a stone wheel along the ground and sliding a curved stick after it to strike it.
    Their mothers scolded, but it did no good, so one day they collected some gatayû’stï stones and boiled them in the pot with the corn for dinner. When the boys came home hungry their mothers dipped out the stones and said, “Since you like the gatayû’stï better than the cornfield, take the stones now for your dinner.”
    The boys were very angry, and went down to the townhouse, saying, “As our mothers treat us this way, let us go where we shall never trouble them any more.” They began a dance–some say it was the Feather dance-and went round and round the townhouse, praying to the spirits to help them.
    At last their mothers were afraid something was wrong and went out to look for them. They saw the boys still dancing around the townhouse, and as they watched they noticed that their feet were off the Earth, and that with every round they rose higher and higher in the air.
    They ran to get their children, but it was too late, for then, were already above the roof of the townhouse–all but one, whose mother managed to pull him down with the gatayû’stï pole, but he struck the ground with such force that he sank into it and the Earth closed over him.
    The other six circled higher and higher until they went up to the sky, where we see them now as the Pleiades, which the Cherokee still call Ani’tsutsä (The Boys). The people grieved long after them, but the mother whose boy had gone into the ground came every morning and every evening to cry over the spot until the Earth was damp with her tears.
    At last a little green shoot sprouted up and grew day by day until it became the tall tree that we call now the pine, and the pine is of the same nature as the stars and holds in itself the same bright light.

    In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were seven sisters: Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno and Merope. Their parents were Atlas, a Titan who held up the sky, and the oceanid Pleione, the protectress of sailing.

    North American legends
    Coincidentally, a similar legend to that of the ancient Greeks is retold by the Kiowa tribe of North America. Seven maidens were transported in to the sky by the Great Spirit to save them from giant bears. The Spirit created the Mateo Tepe (the Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming) to place them beyond the bears. Yet the hunt continued, with the bears climbing the sheer cliffs – the vertical striations on the side of the rock formation were ascribed to be the bears’ claw marks, gouged as they climbed after their prey. Seeing the bears close in on the maidens, the Spirit then placed them securely in the sky.

    In Navajo legend, after the Earth was separated from the sky the Black Sky God had a cluster of stars on his ankle. These were The Flint Boys. In the Black God’s first dance, with each stamp of his foot the Flint Boys jumped up his body, first to the knee, then the hip, shoulder and finally on to his forehead, where they remained as the sign that the Black God was Lord of the Sky.

    The Western Mono Indians saw in the Pleiades a group of wives who were excessively fond of eating onions and were thrown out of their homes by their angry husbands. Repenting in their loneliness, the husbands sought after their wives, but in vain. They had wandered away into the sky, becoming the Pleiades.

    To the Blackfoot tribe of south Alberta and north Montana the stars were known as the Orphan Boys. The fatherless boys were rejected by the tribe, but were befriended by a pack of wolves, who became their only companions. Saddened by their lives on earth they asked the Great Spirit to let them play together in the sky, and so he set them there as a group of small stars. As a reminder of their cruelty in contrast to the kindness of animals, every night the tribe were afflicted by the howling of the wolves, who pined after their lost friends.

    The Inuit relate a legend that in early times a great bear threatened mankind. It was chased into the sky by a pack of dogs. As the Pleiades, they still pursue the bear through the heavens.

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