Mythological heroes fill the night sky: Perseus, Hercules, the twins of Gemini, and others. They're honored with bright, beautiful constellations. But there's also a real-life hero in the stars -- a man who was honored for saving not only his own country, but also much of western Europe.
The man was John Sobieski, who ruled Poland as King John III.
At the time, Poland and other nations were at war with the Ottoman Empire. But Sobieski led his greatest victory not in Poland, but in Austria. In the summer of 1683, the Turks laid seige to Vienna. Leaders in Austria and elsewhere begged for help. Sobieski answered the call. His troops linked up with other European forces, all under Sobieski's command. Although they were outnumbered, they routed the Ottoman forces and saved Vienna and much of western Europe. It was September 12th, 1683 -- 325 years ago today.
The victory inspired astronomer Johannes Hevelius to create a new constellation: Scutum Sobiescanum -- Sobieski's Shield. It represented the king's coat of arms.
The bright stars were already accounted for, though, so Hevelius had to settle for a tiny patch of sky that's just north of Sagittarius. There's not much there to see. But you can find the constellation -- known today simply as Scutum -- by first locating the planet Jupiter. It's low in the south at nightfall, and looks like a brilliant star. Scutum -- a constellation that honors a mythical hero -- is just above it.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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