Corvus and Crater

StarDate: May 17, 2009

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To most of us in the modern world, the stars are little more than pretty lights in the night sky. Perhaps that's because there's not much mystery to them. We know what they are, where they are, and how they work.

In ages past, though, the stars were full of mystery. Many cultures created stories about the stars that related them to objects and events on Earth, to the gods -- or both.

An example is in the story of two small constellations that sail across the southern sky this month: Corvus, the crow, and the adjacent Crater, the cup.

The names come from ancient Greece, where the two star patterns told a story of faith, lies, and retribution.

In one version of the story, the god Apollo sent the crow out to gather water in a cup. But the crow dawdled in his task, angering the god. When the crow finally returned, he added to his troubles by lying. So Apollo exiled the bird to the stars, and placed the golden cup beside him as a reminder of his wrongdoing.

Corvus and Crater are low in the south at nightfall and wheel across the southwestern sky later on. None of their stars are particularly impressive, so you need a fairly dark sky to see the full patterns.

Corvus is a small group of four stars that resembles a sail; in fact, ancient mariners sometimes called it a sail. Crater consists of a semicircle of stars -- the cup's bowl -- and a couple of stars below it that form the base.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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