Tag Archives: constellation

Canopus: the brightest star you’ve never heard of

Ever since I wrote a post on Polaris, I have been wondering, is there a south pole? Sadly, there isn’t, not really.

There are two candidates for a south pole star. By 14 000 CE Canopus will, because of the wobble in the earth’s axis, be as close as it will ever get to being the South Pole, about 10° from magnetic south. The other, Sigma Octanis in the Octant, is the closest star at present. The Southern Cross points to where a south pole would be, and like Ursa Minor is a circumpolar constellation, so it’s always above the horizon.

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White Ravens and Apollo

Two stories about Apollo, one well-known and one obscure, focus on white ravens. Odin sent out ravens to learn what was going on in the world, but Apollo’s white ravens also brought messages to humans, as servants of the god of oracles. The one occasion when a raven brought him news ended very badly indeed. Continue reading

Constellations

After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser
and peeled phosphorescent stars off the sloped
gable-wall, dimming the night vault of her ceiling
like a haze or the interfering glow
of a great city, small hands anticipating
eons as they raided the playful patterns
her father had mapped for her—black holes now
where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat
had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful
eyes of the Mourning Dove. She stuck those paper
stars on herself. One on each foot, the backs
of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on,
then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close
like a child chilled after a winter bath
pressed up to an air duct or a radiator
until those paper stars absorbed more light
than they could hold. Then turned off the lamp,
walked out into the dark hallway and called.

Her father came up. He heard her breathing
as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched
out of a rented film just now taking grip
on him and the child’s mother, his day-end
bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs,
marking the trail back down into that evening
adult world—he could hear her breathing (or
really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but
couldn’t see her, then in the hallway stopped,
mind spinning to sort the apparition
of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed
his daughter and heard in her breathing
the pent, grave concentration of her pose,
mapped onto the star-chart of the darkness,
arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised—
the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love
spun to centre with crushing force, to find her
momentarily fixed, as unchanging
as he and her mother must seem to her,
and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.

Steven Heighton

(For the image above, click here.)

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The Fox

The Fox

Standing its ground on the hill, as if it could hide
in its own stars, low down in the west of the sky.
I could hit it from here with a stone, put the torch
in the far back of its eye. It’s that close.

The next night, the dustbin sacked, the bin-bag
quartered for dog meat, biscuit and bone.
The night after that, six magpies lifting
from fox fur, smeared up ahead on the road.

Simon Armitage.

For the image at the top, click here.

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Regulus: the Lion’s Heart

The easiest way to spot the constellation Leo in the sky is to look for the Sickle, shaped like a backwards question mark. Regulus is the dot of the question mark. It is a bluish star, and it can be seen all around the globe. It is the 22nd brightest star, although the 21st, Alpha Centauri, is not much brighter than it is. Regulus is not a binary star for once, although there is a binary nearby, and possibly a white dwarf.

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Astraea: Star Goddess of the Golden Age

During the Golden Age, Greek mythology tells us, the immortals and humans lived together on Earth. As time passed, and the Bronze and Iron Ages came, humans became less moral, and finally during the Iron Age (according to Ovid) Astraea, the only Immortal who still lived on Earth, fled to the heavens:

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