Spring is just about to spring, but a great pattern of stars named for winter still dominates the western evening sky. It's called the Winter Circle, and it includes some of the most prominent stars of all -- from the "twins" of Gemini to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
This circle of stars holds great significance to the Lakota of the Great Plains. It's known as the Sacred Hoop. It represents the unending circle of time, space, matter, and spirit.
The stars are also known as the Race Track. They represent the outline of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, which tradition says is the birthplace of the Lakota people.
Lakota lore says that long ago, people became greedy and selfish, and they began to ignore Mother Earth. To cleanse herself, she created earthquakes, floods, and rivers of molten rock.
The animals were angry that they, too, were punished in the cleansing, and wanted to destroy the people. But the birds sided with the humans. So a race was called to decide the fate of humankind, with the four-legged animals racing the birds around the Black Hills. The birds won the race, and the people were allowed to live.
Lore says that the race carved a valley around the Black Hills, and pushed the mountains even higher. The bloodied feet of the animals painted the valley red.
This great race is commemorated in the great circle of stars that highlights the western sky after darkness falls tonight.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.