Up! (Fact & Fantasy about the Summer Stars)
There are many versions of the story of the Corona Borealis, but here's the one I like best. After killing the dreaded Minotaur of Crete, the handsome Theseus of Athens steals off with the King of Crete's daughter, the Princess Ariadne, sailing into the sunset (Theseus had agreed to marry Ariadne if she helped him slay the Minotaur and escape from Crete). Somewhere along the journey, Ariadne became sea sick, so Theseus put in at the isle of Dia (later called Naxos), where she fell asleep on the white strand. When the unfortunate princess awoke, she discovered that Theseus had set sail, abandoning her. But along comes Bacchus (Dionysus), the god of wine, accompanied by a retinue of celebrants. Arriving on the shores of Naxos, Bacchus's favorite island, he passionately woos and wins the sorrowing Ariadne. For a marriage present Baccus gave her a golden crown encircled with gems, and Ariadne lived very happily with her divine rescuer. But, only a mortal, she eventually died, whereupon Bacchus hurled her crown of jewels upward into the sky. As it ascended into the heavens, the gems grew brighter and were turned into seven stars, which since ancient times have been called the "Northern Crown", one of the most perfectly formed and easily recognizable constellations.
This incomplete circlet of stars has been recognized by many different civilizations worldwide. To the Native American Shawnee tribe, the Corona was a circle of dancing star maidens. Called 'the Celestial Sisters' by this tribe, their legend said that the fairest of the Celestial Sisters was the wife of the hunter White Hawk, which we know as the nearby star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. From Australia, the Corona Borealis is recognized as a boomerang. The Corona Borealis has also been seen as a laurel wreath (Germany 1800's), a beggar's dish (Middle East), a fishing net (Caroline Islands), a stingray fish (Borneo), and a money string (Chinese).
The Corona Borealis is easy to find by using a few other constellations and stars. Start by locating the Big Dipper. In Summer, the Big Dipper is usually in the northwest sky and is easy to spot by looking straight up. Use the Big Dippers tail and visualize an arc off the end. Follow that arc until you see a bright yellow-orange star ("arc to Arcturus"). This star is Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the Summer night sky and is the tail of the kite-shaped constellation Bootes. Now look a bit higher and to the left and you should find the Corona Borealis with the 'open' section of the circlet facing to the right.
And don't forget one of summers best night time viewing sensations - meteor showers. Meteor showers (lots of shooting stars) are one of natures most wonderful displays. There are three meteor showers during the summer months. The rule-of-thumb with meteor showers is that, except for two (the Quadrantids and the Ursids), they are named after the constellations they emerge out of (the radiant). The first two meteor shower of the summer might possibly be too low to the horizon in the northeastern United States for viewing. July 10th peak night will give us the Capricornids (Capricornus) in the southeast sky showing 5 to 30 yellow slow moving meteors. July 28th is the peak for the Delta Aquarids (Aquarius) in the Southeast sky with 10 to 35 yellow medium meteors per hour. But the grand daddy of the summer meteor showers (and this one is visible in the United States) is August 12th Peak night of the Perseids (Perseus) with 40 to 100 yellow fast moving meteors per hours in the northern sky. Be sure to check local listings in your area for the exact peak night of each meteor shower as they can vary by a day or so from year to year.
Although the summer night sky sometimes might be a bit hazy, the evenings are warm and wonderful for laying out under the blanket of stars wandering through the heavens. So take a thermos of your favorite beverage, a comfortable lounge chair, a star chart, some beautiful music and get out and see 'em.
Footnote: All observations discussed in this article originate from the East Coast of North America.
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