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April 6, 2013

One of the most ancient of all constellations soars high across the southern sky on spring nights. Boötes, the herdsman, is low in the east as darkness falls. Its brightest stars form an outline that resembles a kite or an ice cream cone. Its brightest star of all, Arcturus, is at the bottom of the cone, with the rest of Boötes stretched to its left. Arcturus is one of the brightest stars in all the night sky, so you just can’t miss it.

Boötes is considered to be one of the oldest of all the constellations - it was drawn so long ago that no one is sure just when it first came along. But it shows up in the mythology of ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and many other cultures.

Perhaps not surprisingly for so ancient a star pattern, its mythology is a bit confused. There are several competing stories from Greek mythology, each giving a different origin and significance to Boötes.

One story says that Boötes created agriculture by plowing the fields with the nearby Big Dipper, which represented the plow. Another saw him as a hunter in pursuit of two bears - the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. And yet another saw him as the overseer of a herd of oxen - hence the constellation’s nickname, “the herdsman.”

Like many Greek myths, the details of Boötes involve deception, betrayal, and even murder - adding even more mystery to this ancient constellation.

We’ll talk about a star in Boötes that has a big, hot planet tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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