Full sky chart for the month of September
September 2008 Night Sky
With the close of the Olympics, I started thinking what
the Greeks have contributed to the world over the centuries: sports,
art, culture, medicine, and mythology. In the heavens, we can find
all kinds of stories for the patterns formed in the sky. The Greeks
called constellations “katasterismoi.” There were twelve
special constellations called the “zodiakos” (zodiac)
or “zodiakos kyrklos” (circle of little animals). These
twelve appeared along the path of the sun as it traveled through
Constellations are not all visible in the night sky throughout
the year. Constellations first appear in the sky on the eastern
horizon just prior to dawn. As the months progress, the stars travel
toward the west. Then, one evening, a constellation reaches the
western horizon and finally disappears completely from view for
about six months.
The Greeks imagined that the heavens were made from a great, solid
dome forged from bronze. The heavenly constellations were fixed
on this dome. The Titan Atlas stood beneath the axis of the heavens
in the far north (in the land of the Hyperboreans), and spun the
dome around on his shoulders, causing the stars to rise and set.
Part of the bronze dome always lay beneath the horizon. Here the
constellations were believed to dwell deep beneath the earth in
the misty pit of Tartaros, or the lands of the dead. As they rose
into the heavens, the constellations were bathed in the purifying
waters of the great earth-encircling river Okeano.
This month, I start a series of short explanations and stories
about the stars and constellations seen in our skies throughout
THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER
The term “Dog Days” was used by the Greeks, as well
as the ancient Romans, who called these days caniculares dies (days
of the dogs) after Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius is the brightest
star in the heavens besides the Sun and planets. The hottest part
of the year, July to early September, was believed to be evil, causing
the seas to boil, wine to sour, dogs to go mad, burning fevers,
and hysterics. All creatures became lethargic in the heat of the
summer. The ancients sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of
the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that Sirius
was the cause of the hot, sultry weather, adding its burning heat
to that of the sun.
Originally, the Dog Days were the days when Sirius rose just before
or at the same time as sunrise. Due to the precession of the Earth
around the sun, this is no longer true. Today, you can find Sirius
rising in the east about 4:30 a.m. in September.
There are several stories involving an eagle, which relate to Aquila.
The Greeks call this constellation Aiêtos.
The first story tells us about an eagle which was sent by Zeus
to feed on the liver of the chained Titan Prometheus. Heracles freed
Prometheus from his chains just in time for Prometheus to kill the
eagle with an arrow, and Zeus placed the pair amongst the stars
as Aquila (eagle) and Sagitta (arrow).
Another story tells of an eagle sent by Zeus to snatch the handsome
Trojan youth Ganymedes up to heaven. The boy and eagle were placed
amongst the stars as the adjacent constellations Aquarius and Aquila.
An eagle appeared to Zeus when he was performing a sacrifice prior
to the commencement of his war against the Titans. Zeus took this
as a sign of a good omen. To commemorate the event, he placed the
eagle and altar amongst the stars as the constellations Aquila and
When Zeus wanted to seduce the goddess Nemesis, he changed
himself into a swan and asked Aphrodite, in the guise of an eagle,
to pursue him into her lap. As a memorial of this successful ruse,
he placed an eagle and swan in the sky as the constellations Cygnus
and Aquila. The Greeks called this constellation Ornis (the Bird)
or Kygnos (the Swan).
Cepheus was the King of Aethiopia and father of the lovely
Andromeda. He was forced to sacrifice his daughter to a sea monster
because the boasts of his wife Cassiopea offended the gods. But,
Perseus came to her rescue and slew the beast. As a memorial, the
whole family—Cepheus, Cassiopea, Andromeda, and Perseus—were
placed amongst the stars. The Greeks call this constellation Kêpheus.
I will have more shorts about the constellations in the months
THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
•Mercury will be low in the west early in September just
•Venus will shine brightly in the western sky after sunset.
On the 11th, look for Venus and Mars to be 0.3 degrees north of
Venus, with Mercury about half a closed fist (five degrees) to the
south. Binoculars will help find the dimmer partners.
•Mars, too, is low in the west at sunset. On the 13th, look
for Mercury just south of Mars.
•Jupiter is high in the southern sky after sunset. It will
be hard to miss. On the 10th, look for a Jupiter-Mars conjunction.
•Saturn has slipped into the setting sun.
•Uranus, on the 12th, is a faint naked-eye object as the
planet reaches opposition. You will need dark skies to see it. Binoculars
will be helpful.
•The Moon is full on the 15th in the constellation Pisces.
The Moon is new on the 29th in the constellation Libra.
A big thank you goes to Sandoval County. They made quick work to
improve the glare off the lighted sign at the Placitas Community/Senior