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May 22, 2012

One of the most famous characters in the night sky takes a prominent position at this time of year — Hercules, the strongman. His relatively faint constellation is in view by the time it gets dark, and soars high overhead during the night.

Hercules is the Roman version of a character from Greek mythology. He was the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and a mortal woman. To appease his wife, who was angry at Zeus’s dalliance, Zeus named the boy Heracles, which means “glory to Hera.” But the strategy didn’t work. Hera tormented Hercules throughout his life. He was forced to perform 12 labors of strength and courage to atone for crimes he committed while under the spell of Hera. His labors included killing a lion and a snake, which also stand in the stars.

The most prominent portion of the constellation 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, 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 telescopes reveal hundreds of them. In fact, M13 contains hundreds of thousands of stars packed into a tight ball. These stars are among the oldest in the galaxy. More about M13 tomorrow.

Look for Hercules ascending the sky beginning at nightfall, and soaring high overhead after midnight.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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