Looking Up: Mythed Opportunities

Feb 27, 2017

The well known Pleiades star cluster is slowly destroying part of a passing cloud of gas and dust. The Pleiades is the brightest open cluster of stars on Earth's sky and can be seen from almost any northerly location with the unaided eye.
Credit David Lane / nasa.gov

This week on Looking Up Guest host Bruce Bookout presents another archeo-astronomy lesson.  This month it's all about the Pleiades star cluster.

Our Colorado winter skies contain one of the more famous small asterisms of the sky – the Pleiades.  They resemble a tiny dipper and are often confused as the little dipper.  They are easily found by first locating Orion, then moving to the right to the tiny cluster.  They appear as a petite bright cluster of white stars.

Western mythology describes the Pleiades as the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. They were the sisters of Calypso, and the Hyades, among others. One day the great hunter Orion saw the Pleiads as they walked through the country, and fancied them. Orion pursued them for seven years, until Jupiter answered their prayers for delivery and transformed them into doves, placing them among the stars. Later on, after Orion was killed, he was placed in the heavens behind the Pleiades, immortalizing his lustful chase.

In the Navajo story, the Pleiades were known as the Flint boys and was the first constellation placed in the sky by Black God.  After separating the earth from the sky, Black God entered the Hogan of creation. The playful Flint boys were on his ankle; he stamped his foot and they moved to his knee, then to his ankle, then to his shoulder, and finally to his left temple. The Flint Boys work as intermediaries between Black God, who controls the sky, and the Navajo.

The Lakota legend speaks of seven young girls being chased by a bear. The frightened girls leapt upon a small rock and asked the Great Spirit to protect them.  The Great Spirit heard the girls’ cries and made the rock grow upwards, with almost vertical sides, taking the girls with it, and leaving the bears unable to reach them. The bears stubbornly continued to claw away at the rock, leaving deep scratch marks. The Great Spirit made it grow even taller, pushing the seven little girls into the stars, leaving only the great Mateo Tipi; what we call today the Devil’s Tower.  Now there is a tale that could have gotten more grizzly.  

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Pleiades, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Bruce Bookout for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!