One of the most famous characters in the night sky takes a prominent position at this time of year. The character is known by his Roman name, Hercules. His constellation is in good view in the east and northeast by the time it gets dark, and soars high overhead during the night.
In Greek mythology, the strongman was the son of a mortal woman and Zeus, the king of the gods. To appease his jealous wife, Hera, Zeus named the boy Heracles, which means “glory to Hera.” But Hera definitely was not appeased, and she tormented Hercules. He killed his family while under her spell, so he was forced to perform 12 labors of strength and courage to atone for the crimes. The list included killing a lion and a snake, which also stand in the stars.
The most prominent portion of Hercules is the Keystone — four stars that form a lopsided square. It’s above the northeastern horizon as darkness falls.
Along the line connecting the two stars that rise first, at the top of the Keystone, look for a beautiful globular star cluster known as M13. In dark skies, it’s visible to the unaided eye as a faint smudge of light. Binoculars reveal a swarm of stars, while small telescopes reveal many more. In fact, M13 contains hundreds of thousands of stars packed into a tight ball. These stars are among the oldest in the galaxy. We’ll have more about M13 tomorrow.
Again, look for Hercules ascending the sky beginning at nightfall, and soaring high overhead after midnight.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013