AstroStories: Astronomy, Astrology, and Mythology

Stories, Myths of the Ancient World

Stories, Myths of the Ancient World

AstroStories ~ Astronomy. Astrology. Mythology.

Astronomy is the oldest science, evolving from storytelling and navigation to being combined with astrology and horoscopes to discoveries familiar to today’s technology. From the Stone Age to ancient civilizations, Renaissance, and the modern era, people look to the skies every night to solve its mystery, only to raise more questions about the Universe. In this series, I want to explore the stories passed down from generation to generation and preserved for millenia, adding a new dimension to astronomy— imagination. It’s not enough to know the facts and analyze data. Mythology and astrology was deeply integrated into the ancients’ daily life and astronomy. When the ancient peoples congregated at night, stories of the constellations, such as those of the great heroes Perseus and Orion the Hunter, sprung from vivid imagination.

The Sunday before last, I went on an astronomy night hike with friends at the local trails. I not only saw Saturn, Jupiter, and an artificial satellite ricocheting through the Big Dipper, but also reenacted a scene about Orion the Hunter, the seven sisters, Zeus, Artemis, and Scorpio. I realized the permanence of these timeless stories, able to penetrate many cultures and decades.

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The Celestial Sphere

The Sun and stars show regular patterns of motion that reflect the rotation of the Earth around its North- South axis and the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. The motions show how the Solar System works — that indeed, the heliocentric “sun-centered” is true.

FRAMES OF REFERENCE: An observer can see half the celestial sphere at any given time, or 6 of 12 constellations. On Earth at any given time, different observers see different parts of the sky, and different motions of starts in their sky. This proves that Earth is a sphere that rotates once per day.

Twelve Constellations of the Ecliptic

CONSTELLATIONS: Constellations are groups of stars forming a pattern or an outline, such as Scorpius (Scorpion), Ursa Major (The Bear), Cygnus (The Swan), and Orion (The Hunter). Constellations in the circumpolar zone are close to the North Celestial Pole and stay up all night and year round, while those in the equatorial zone are near the Celestial Equator and changes during the night and year. An asterism is a sub-group of a constellation, such as the Big Dipper in Ursa Major. The twelve constellations of the zodiac (of the ecliptic) appear during certain months of the year: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

The Celestial Sphere

THE NIGHT SKY: While stars “twinkle,” planets do not; planets only reflect light from stars. Stars appear to twinkle because light passes through Earth’s atmosphere and different pockets of air at different temperatures.

MAGNITUDE: In the original magnitude system, 1 is the brightest visible and 6 is the faintest visible. The difference of 5 magnitudes (6-1=5) is actually a factor of 100 in magnitudes. A magnitude 6 star is 100 times fainter than a magnitude 1 star. The modern system differs from the original one, with some stars brighter than magnitude 1 stars and others fainter than magnitude 6 stars. Human eyes respond to light logarithmically: m= -2.5log(b), where b = brightness of star by counting the number of photons per second.

ANGULAR MOVEMENTS & MEASURING WITHOUT A TELESCOPE: The width of your finger held at arm’s length equals 1 degree, while the width of your fist equals 10 degrees (e.g. full moon is about the width of half a finger, or 0.5 degrees).

1 revolution = 360°

2∏ radians = 360°

1° = 60 arcminutes = 60′

1′ = 60 arcseconds = 60”

1° = 60′ x 60°/1′

1° = 3,600”