The ancients loved creatures that were crosses between humans and something else. One of the favorites of the Greeks, for example, was the centaur. It featured the head and torso of a man combined with the body of a horse. In fact, the list of Greek constellations featured two centaurs. And both of them are still around today. Right now, one of them is dropping from view as darkness falls, while the other is climbing into view.
Centaurus sits low in the south at that hour. From most of the United States, in fact, a good portion of it never climbs above the horizon.
Centaurus represents Chiron, one of the gentlest and most cultured of all centaurs. He was an accomplished teacher. And he was so trusted by the gods that he was godfather to Jason and Achilles. He also served as tutor to Asclepius, the greatest healer.
In the sky, Chiron is part of a larger story. He’s generally shown holding Lupus, the wolf, which is to the left of the centaur. He’s carrying it to be a sacrifice on Ara, the altar, which is below the tail of Scorpius.
There’s no real story associated with the other centaur. But it’s a lot easier to see. Sagittarius is just rising in the southeast at nightfall. It climbs into good view by an hour or so later. Eight of its stars form the outline of a teapot — a pattern that’s easy to pick out. It’s highest in the sky in the wee hours of the morning, and dives toward the southwestern horizon at first light.
Script by Damond Benningfield