July – A Faint Crown Overhead

A Faint Crown Overhead

By Calvin L. Chrisman

Corona Borealis

As small, fairly faint constellation overhead on summer nights has a number of rich myths associated with it. It is called Corona Borealis, the crown of the north (not to be confused with Corona Australis, the crown of the south). It is known to some as a crown, to others as a cup or a camp circle or as a magical castle to the Welsh. To find it, go out after sunset on a fairly dark night and start with the Big Dipper. Follow the arc of the handle of the Dipper to a bright star known as Arcturus (“arc to Arcturus”). Corona Borealis is about twenty degrees east of Arcturus. Hold your right hand out at arm’s length with your fingers spread and place your thumb near Arcturus. Point your little finger toward the east and it should be near a semi-circle of stars. This is Corona Borealis. You should notice the bright star Vega almost directly overhead and a little farther from Corona Borealis than Arcturus is on the other side.

The most widely known legend about this constellation is Greek myth that it is the crown of princess Ariadne of Crete. She was the half-sister of the terrible Minotaur, a monster with the body of a human and the head of a bull. Using a magic ball of thread, she helped the hero Theseus find his way through a labyrinth to kill the Minotaur and they then ran off together. Theseus abandoned her on the island of Naxos. The god Dionysus heard her cries and fell in love with her. They were married and she wore this crown at their wedding. Their marriage was a happy one with four sons. When Ariadne died, Dionysus placed the crown in the heavens in her memory.

In Arab mythology, these stars are seen as a beggar’s bowl. The Shawnee Indians see it as a camp circle since they arranged their camps in a semi-circular shape. They believe this is the circle of a heavenly body of sisters who once came down to Earth to dance. A warrior spirited away the most beautiful of the sisters. They fell in love and married while the others returned to their place in the heavens. Finally, in Welsh myths it is known as Caer Arianrhod, the Castle of the Silver Circle. This was the heavenly home of the Welsh goddess Lady Arianrhod who gave birth to two sons by magical means.

If you were able to find Arcturus, continue the arc to another bright star, Spica. Spica shines with a wonderful blue tone. On the evening of July 15th, the first-quarter Moon will be very close to Spica. If you happen to be in parts of Central or South America on that date, you can watch the Moon occult (cover up) Spica. If you have your binoculars handy, on the evening of July 21st, bright Venus will be very close to Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion in the west just after sunset. The next morning, in the east, Mars and Jupiter will be close together an hour before dawn. Binoculars will help here too.

Clear Skies!

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