The Music of the Spheres/Chapter 9

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4408150The Music of the Spheres — Chapter IX.Florence Armstrong Grondal

These beautiful constellations first make their appearance during October, although they may be viewed to better advantage during the winter-time, when they lie directly in the south.



Orion, the Mighty Hunter

Of all the interesting star-scenery that we pass as we travel in our year-long, never-ending path around the sun, the most magnificent and impressive is the figure of the beautiful constellation of Orion.

This constellation is not only one of the largest, but its stars are so particularly vivid as a group and so uniquely arranged as a design, that they never fail to catch the eye of even the casual observer,—like the carpenter, who, on noticing it for the first time, humorously exclaimed, "Well, look at the house-roof up in the sky!" thus unconsciously recognizing the stars as being united in a common picture or constellation.

All the ancient legends agree in describing Orion as a giant of extraordinary height and the greatest hunter in the world. Classical evidence is abundant as to his huge stature, though obviously, this evidence is not trustworthy. Pliny reports that an earthquake in Crete disclosed the bones of a giant 46 cubits in length, held by some to be Orion. A cubit is an ancient measure of about 18 inches so that if Pliny's report is correct, Orion was 69 feet tall.

There are many stories which relate the adventures of Orion but these vary even to the point of contradiction. Even the manner of his death is open to question, the two most popular versions being as follows:

Diana, the lovely Moon-goddess, sometimes neglected to carry the moon across the sky so that she might spend the evening hunting with her nymphs upon the mountains. On one of these occasions she met Orion, the mighty hunter, and straightway fell in love with him, thereby so greatly displeasing her twin-brother Apollo, the Sun-god, that he determined to put an end to the affair. The opportunity, unfortunately, came soon afterward when the hunter was wading in the sea. Pouring his golden rays on Orion so that the brightness would conceal him, the god suggested to the goddess that they practice archery on the beach. Then, pointing to a bright object shining on the waves in the distance, Apollo persuaded Diana to try her skill by aiming one of her arrows at it. Diana aimed, and since she had never missed, the arrow hit its mark. Amid the ruffled waters tossed about in the giant's death agony, the goddess recognized the face of her beloved, and weeping bitterly, accused Apollo of the wildest category of sins. Proceeding then to Jupiter, she begged that god to place the hunter among the stars where she might always see him shining in the night time, as she drove her silver chariot along the pathway of the zodiac.

Another legend claims that Orion's death was caused by the sting of a poisonous scorpion which Juno had commanded to spring out of the ground and punish him for his unparalleled boasting. This has already been referred to in a previous chapter. Although the scorpion and the hunter were both placed in the sky, they were considerately situated in such positions, that when the Hunter appears in the east, the Scorpion disappears below the horizon in the west, thus saving the hunter the embarrassment of seeing his innocuous conqueror.

Still another legend describes the attempt of Æsculapius, famous physician and son of Apollo, to restore Orion to life. This attempt so angered Jupiter, due to the influence of Pluto, who had become irritated by the physician's power to detain a soul after it had started for the Kingdom under the ground, that Jupiter sent one of his thunderbolts and annihilated Æsculapius, otherwise his brother's realms might in time have become depopulated. Apollo, in fury, shot the one-eyed Cyclops who had furnished the thunderbolts, and then sought Jupiter, as had his sister, and requested him to place the physician in the sky and light him up with everlasting stars, for this was the second son that he had killed with a thunderbolt and he was feeling rather badly about it. Jupiter, having no objection to this, kindly granted the request, and it is believed by many that the physician is represented by Ophiuchus, a huge sky figure whose head rests next to that of Hercules.

When Orion was placed in the sky, he was allowed to bring along his lion's skin, which hangs on his arm, his sword, which swings from his girdle, his great club, which he flourishes above his head, and his two dogs, who watch his battle with the red-eyed Bull.

"Begirt with many a blazing star,
Stood the great giant Algebar
Orion, hunter of the beast."

Taurus, the Bull, is easily recognized by his V-shaped face and the red glare of the star which marks his eye. This angry creature charges with lowered head, his golden horns just above the Hunter, who defends himself with his club now decked with glittering star-points and forces the Bull to back before him all the way across the sky.

A first glimpse of the Hunter and the Bull may be obtained in the east about midnight during late October although it is more convenient to look for them in November or December when the Hunter's huge figure stands squarely in the south. By the middle of May, the battle scene has reached the western horizon. One by one, each sparkling light disappears not to be seen again until the following October. One should say perhaps 'at a convenient hour' for in the summer-time Orion may be seen in the east at dawn. Aurora, the Dawn-goddess, up bright and early to open the sun gates for Apollo, saw the handsome hunter on the sky slope decked with red and white and yellow lights of stars. Like Diana, she loved him immediately, but, in the words of the poets, he pales before her colorful radiance as she reaches upward to announce the coming of the sun. Because dawn takes away the stars, Orion is said to have been carried away by this goddess and even yet this story may be seen enacted when watching the glory of Orion captured by Aurora as she flashes rosy-tinted in the east.

The Lion's Skin of Orion

During the course of his adventurous wanderings on earth, Orion once came to the Island of Chios, in the Ægean Sea, where he fell in love with a maiden named Merope. In order to display his skill as a hunter, he cleared the island of its scourge of wild beasts and brought their skins as presents to his sweetheart. This he accomplished alone and unaided except by his mighty club and the protecting hide of a lion. This is the same lion's skin that he wears in the sky during his struggle with Taurus, the Bull, only here it is adorned by a faintly curved row of tiny 4th and 5th magnitude stars, and about ten stars of the 6th magnitude. This "tawny skin" hangs over the Hunter's left arm between his western shoulder and the Bull.

"And on his arm the lion's hide
Scatters across the midnight air
The golden radiance of his hair."

The skin appears first of all above the eastern horizon and its little stars flutter vigorously as if being shaken warningly at any who might defy him. Then Orion, arrayed in large stars, slowly rises from his reclining position along the eastern ledge. One might imagine that he at first peers along the south in search of the poisonous scorpion which had stung him on the heel, for this must have been a supreme humiliation for so brave a hunter. But there is nothing in the south but the river Eridanus and the lightly starred Sea-monster with his head reared upward toward Andromeda. Feeling reasonably safe from any rear attacks, Orion now confidently climbs the darkened eastern slope; his Lion's Skin twinkles as he tautens his arm; his great Club is raised in readiness above his head, and joying in the combat, he henceforth wages, in unmolested peace, his eternal battle with Taurus, the Bull.

Betelgeuse, on Orion's Shoulder

Just opposite the Lion's Skin, on the right shoulder of the Hunter, rests the beautifully tinted star, Betelgeuse. This star, like Antares, makes one think of roses, although Antares is more the shade of a deep red rose, while Betelgeuse is a wild rose pink. Diana probably notes the decoration as she passes in her chariot, for on certain dates she drives directly in front of his head-stars. On the opposite shoulder lies the yellow Bellatrix, "the female warrior or Amazon star." The title of this star was likely given it in honor of Orion's mother, who was fabled as Euryale, the famous Amazon Queen.

On account of recent discoveries concerning it, Betelgeuse has become one of the most interesting of our stars. When Professor Michelson of the University of Chicago discovered a means of measuring the diameter of stars, he measured Betelgeuse and found it to be of the most enormous size. Indeed, if this huge rose-tinted star were placed in the position of our sun, it would fill the solar system nearly to the planet Mars!

This unique achievement of measuring the diameter of a star made the world sit up in amazement. The measurement was made at the Mount Wilson Observatory with the largest reflecting telescope ever made, a telescope which has an aperture of a little more than 100 inches. A set of mirrors was attached in such a way that for the purpose of measurement the effect of a 20-foot aperture was obtained and Professor Michelson was able to prove that the disk of Betelgeuse has an angular diameter of approximately one twenty-second of a second—which means that if the distance deduced from the best determined parallax of the star is correct, the actual diameter is 230,000,000 miles! But this giant red star is a globe of little density; the dwarf red stars, although about the same mass, are found to be more compact. Hale in "The New Heavens" says that there are good reasons for believing that "the mass of Betelgeuse cannot be more than ten times that of the sun's volume. Therefore its average density must be like that of an attenuated gas in an electric vacuum tube." It is difficult to adjust one's everyday conception of a star to such a sheer and rarefied object. Such a star seems almost too spiritual to exist, and is certainly an amazing thing to picture in the heavens. But Betelgeuse is not a starry spirit, but a full-fledged mammoth star, though it is only recently (in a cosmic sense) that it started on its career.

Rigel, on Orion's Foot

The brilliant white light of Rigel on Orion's foot shines in charming contrast to the pink-tinged Betelgeuse which lies upon his shoulder.

Rigel is a young star but not as young as Betelgeuse, for Betelgeuse, like ruddy Antares, is among the youngest of the stars.
"The scorched waters of Eridanus' tear-swollen flood
Welling beneath the foot of Orion."

It has been many hundred million years since Rigel was as big and red as Betelgeuse now is. Rigel belongs to a group which includes the hottest of all the stars and even at a distance of at least 450 light years, it still appears so brilliant that it is one of our brightest stars. It has been estimated that in actual luminosity it exceeds our sun about 13,000 times.

A blue star of the 9th magnitude lies close beside Rigel. This little star may be seen with even a small telescope.

Just a little west of Rigel wanders a crooked line of stars, first toward Cetus, then southward toward the horizon. This is the "poor remains" of the river Eridanus. Aratus speaks of it as those "poor remains" because it represents what is left of the "amazed Eridanus" after Phæthon had, like a streaming comet, plunged into it and partly burned it up. Aratus also calls it "The River of Many Tears" because the Heliades, Phæthon's sisters, who were metamorphosed into poplar trees, "all the day stand round the tomb and weep" great amber tears.

This constellation, which is best seen directly in the south during September, is a tribute of respect to the grief of the Sungod who had gazed with horror at the wild flight of the sun-horses and the thunderbolt of Jupiter that had hurled his boy through the air. Touched by Apollo's remorse for allowing the youth to drive his horses, Jupiter drew the river to the heavens, thinking that it might be a consolation to Apollo, as he performed his daily task, to view the kindly river, now flecked with stars, which had once caught the "charred fragment" of Phæthon and "cooled it in his waters."

"But earthbound winds could not dismember thee,
Nor shake thy frame of jewels."
Charles Tennyson Turner.]

Orion's Head

The head of Orion is marked by two small stars and a larger one. These stars form a tiny triangle named Meissa, which means "The Head of the Giant." The three stars form rather a small head for the rest of the giant's well proportioned body, so they are sometimes placed on the side of his head and sometimes as beauty-spots upon his face, according to the fancy of the artist who portrays him. The triangle is faint but very easily seen and a happy addition to the figure; without them, or if they happened to lie in another position, the constellation might well have represented something other than a giant.

There is a curious optical illusion which occurs when the moon is among these stars, for the big, round full face of the moon actually passes through the sides of this (seemingly) tiny triangle. But one must be on the alert to view this interesting occurrence for the Moon-goddess travels swiftly in her chariot over the sky and leaves even her lover no more than a passing caress. The explanation is, that the triangle of stars on Orion's head appears small in comparison with the great quadrilateral figure which lies below it, and the delusion as to the size of the moon is accounted for partly as a result of its brightness (the bright rays spreading its image on the retina), and partly because there is nothing in the sky with which to compare it. When the moon rises behind a tree on the hillside it seems a mammoth thing, a silver ball so huge that it seems almost absurd to state that it can flit between the sides of Orion's triangle. Yet the closer it comes to Orion's head the smaller does it seem to become and the larger becomes the triangle. When the two touch sides, the triangle is seen to be large enough to contain the moon, which slides through without touching its stars.

Orion's Belt

Although most popularly known as the "Belt of Orion," this Belt is also known by other names. In the Book of Job it is referred to as the "Bands of Orion"; in the mythology of Greece and Rome, as the arrow with which Diana killed the hunter when he was wading in the sea, and in the mythology of Northern races, as Frigga's jeweled Spinning Wheel with which the Goddess wove the long threads of fleecy clouds. Miss Proctor says that the Eskimos believe that the stars may be three seal hunters who have lost their way, and call them the "Lost Ones," although they also think that the Belt resembles three steps cut in a snowbank. The native Australians unite the Belt stars in a picture with the Pleiad group above Orion's shoulder and, according to Allen, imagine them as three young men "dancing a corroboree" while the Pleiades are the maidens playing for them. In England the Belt is called the "Ell and Yard," the "Yard Wand" and the "Golden Yard," because its stars are equidistant like a measuring rod; it is also called "Jacob's Staff" and sometimes the stars are called the "Three Kings," although the Germans call them the "Three Mowers." Far south on the hot deserts, the Arabs see the Belt stars as a "String of Pearls" and the Arabian astronomers, giving each pearl a name, called the first Mintaka, the second Alnilam and the third Alnitak. Other countries have called the stars "The Spangles" and "The Golden Grains," while Tennyson speaks of them as being "burnished by the frosty dark," which is the poet's way of saying that the stars of the Giant's Belt are exceptionally beautiful.

Modern astronomers turning their telescopes upon the stars of this Belt note that there is more to be seen here than meets the unaided eye, for suspended from either side, like an added attempt at decoration, hang tiny stars of different sizes, daintily colored. Mintaka (δ), the double star on the west, is a white and pale violet, of the 2nd and the 7th magnitudes. Alnitak (ζ) on the lower end to the southeast, is a topaz-yellow, light purple and gray, of the 2nd, 6th and 10th magnitudes. The faint star just below Alnitak is composed of an exquisite group of delicate stars of various colors.

If the north pole of our earth was shot out like a dart, it would hit the dome of our sky somewhere in the vicinity of the North Star. Likewise, if the earth's equator could be conceived of as swelling and swelling and swelling, it would hit Orion just about at the top star of his belt. The circular line where this imaginary terrestrial hoop would fit against the heavens is called the celestial equator and it, of course, is in a position equally distant between the two heavenly poles. A good way to remember just where the celestial equator passes is noticing the pathway which the star mentioned above traces in its journey from east to west. A teacher of astronomy would now add that not only is the terrestrial equator marked as the celestial equator in the sky, but every meridian of the 'swollen' earth is traced up there as an hour circle, all of the hour circles being fastened in a great framework to both poles, as they are on earth. But instead of latitude the astronomer says declination, and in place of longitude he says right ascension, just as in place of meridian, he says hour circle. He then can designate the places of the stars in the sky in exactly the manner in which he designates the position of a sea or a city on the earth and as large telescopes are provided with equatorial mountings, so that their axes conform with that of our earth, objects in the sky can be located by the use of graduated circles and verniers, thus greatly facilitating astronomical research.

The Great Nebula of Orion

One of the most impressive spectacles in the sky lies on the center of the Sword of Orion. This Sword is adorned with three stars, the central one appearing misty, "like an eye in tears." A large telescope discloses that this is not a star after all but beautiful cloudy masses of nebulæ, which cover the whole central part of the constellation. A photograph uncovers a still further surprise (for the eye of a camera is more sensitive to light than the eye at a telescope), and one sees then that the nebula spreads in all directions, over and beyond most of the stars on the Hunter's figure.

"It is a wonderful sight," says Peck in "The Constellations," "the whole field of view is filled with an irregular mass of green shining mist, which is apparently broken up into flocculent masses, delicate clouds of light, sprays and wisps, and standing out from the cloudy background, like a sprinkling of diamond dust, are seen faint, glittering stars."

Vast masses of dark nebulæ in the Nebula of Orion are also effectively revealed in telescopes. The dark nebula is visible in the photographs as veil-like clouds obscuring the light of the stars beyond them, or, again, as definitely outlined black blotches lying like some huge object on a brilliantly glowing background. Such a 'blotch' is the Dark Bay or Dark Horse Nebula in Orion whose photograph is so fearfully suggestive and wonderfully beautiful.

Nebulous clouds are, in general, dark rather than luminous. These clouds are believed by many astronomers to be cosmic dust-particles driven out from bright stars. These particles finally col
Photograph by Mount Wilson Observatory through the 100-inch Hooker telescope.

lect in great clouds which, when far from the light of stars, are dark. When the accumulating clouds of dust become so heavy that gravitation begins to draw their particles together, heat is generated and the mass begins to glow, although sometimes dark masses, if they are close to stars, will glow with reflected starlight. The gaseous clouds are devoid of solid or liquid matter, and consist, the spectroscope shows, of glowing gases, apparently nebulium and hydrogen. Thus the Nebula of Orion, which is a gaseous nebula, is never spoken of as a "universe," like the Nebula of Andromeda, which may be resolved into stars.

The finest example of an irregular nebula is the Nebula of Orion; of a ring nebula, that found in the constellation of Lyra; and of a spiral nebula, the one found in the constellation of Canes Venatici, just below the handle of the Big Dipper. The spiral of Andromeda, which is turned edgewise to the earth, is the largest nebula in the sky.

Orion's Two Dogs—Canis Major and Canis Minor

Canis Major, the "Great Dog" of Orion, lies in a straight line southeast of his Belt Stars. Canis Minor, his "Small Dog," lies across the Milky Way, 20 degrees northeast of Betelgeuse, the pink star on his shoulder. The three stars form a large and easily traced triangle.

Canis Minor is usually pictured as a Spaniel standing on the bank of the Milky Way and gazing across its river of stars at the giant Orion with his club upraised against the Bull. Although this dog is usually said to be Orion's dog, it is sometimes claimed to be one of Diana's hounds that followed her in the hunt. Other legends claim that Canis Minor was the dog of Icarus who discovered the slaying of his master by the shepherds of Attica and for this was placed among the stars. Procyon, the brightest star in this constellation, is called the "Little Dog's Star." It appears above the eastern horizon on the 23rd of January just after darkness, and shines for about half an hour before Sirius appears upon the scene.

Sirius is the head star of Canis Major and the brightest star in the sky. This dog sits at the feet of Orion watching Lepus, the Hare.

Taurus, the Bull

"Aries glorious in his golden wool,
Looks back and wonders at the mighty Bull."

This is the bull that Orion chases backwards across the winter's sky, although only his foremost portion is visible among the stars. The rest of this creature might be imagined as hidden behind a cloud; but no, mythologists say the other half is immersed beneath the waves of the sea. Beneath the waves of the sea! It looks to us as if he were defending himself with considerable gusto against the advance of Orion, for did we not see him clamber backwards up the slope in the east only an hour and a half ahead of the giant who rose with his star club lifted menacingly above his head?

"Thy hoofs, unwilling, climb the sphery vault;
Thy red eye trembles in an angry glare,
When the hounds follow, and in fierce assault
Bay through the fringes of the lion's hair."
Bayard Taylor.

If thus engaged, why was Taurus placed in the sky with a little cross-section of the sea about him? It was quite likely, we find, to preserve a note on the following legend:

Jupiter, the great ruler of Olympus, once changed himself into a snow-white bull. Such baffling disguises were the delight of this god when he had some particular object in view. This particular time he wished to carry off Europa, Princess of Phœnicia. He found the Princess playing in the meadow

"joyous, fresh, with roses bound
About her sunny head, and on her cheek
The glow of morn."

and placing himself conspicuously amongst the scenery, he soon caught her attention.

As soon as Europa spied this strange, white, gentle-appearing creature, she ran over to it, caressed it, and finally climbed upon its back. No sooner had she done this, than the bull, gathering the speed of the wind, ran to the sea-shore, plunged into the waves, and swam to the Island of Crete.

"Sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasp'd
From off her shoulders backward borne;

"From one hand droop'd a crocus; one hand clasp'd
The mild bull's golden horn."

This little Princess gave her name to the continent of Europe and the white bull was placed among the constellations.

Thus a plausible explanation is found for but half of the bull being shown among the stars—he is carrying Europa across the waves—then we look on his starry mane and find—not sweet little Europa clinging there, but seven lithesome maidens! These are represented by a lovely group of stars called the Pleiades. How does this happen? Well, that is another story.

One day, while hunting, Orion came suddenly upon seven graceful sisters dancing on the mossy turf in the woodland. He watched entranced until the happy creatures noticed him, and filled with terror at his gigantic stature, turned and fled. For five long years they ran, with Orion close behind, until weary and distressed they begged the gods for aid.

Then Orion saw the maidens vanish as seven fluttering doves which flew far up into the sunlit sky. That evening Diana saw them, and telling them to keep up heart, drove her moon-chariot past Olympus where she directed Jupiter's attention to the unfortunate plight of the maidens. Jupiter then changed the doves to stars and placed them on the back of Taurus, the Bull. Here they rest protected by a pair of golden horns, secure but still pale, for every winter's evening just as surely as they rise above the horizon, up comes Orion just a little way behind and pursues the Bull across the heavens with his dogs and club.

Æschylus, however, claims that the Pleiades were named after the daughters of Atlas because of their touching sorrow when their father was laden with the weight of the sky. Thus many of the stories of Orion's adventures seem to conflict with other fables. Since the stars of the Pleiades bear the individual names of seven of Atlas's daughters, Æschylus was probably right. The stars outlining the face of Taurus were named after the half-sisters of the Pleiades and are called the Hyades.

The Hyades

The group of five stars which deck the face of the mythological Bull have the individual names of Phaola, Ambrosia, Eudora, Coronis and Pholyxo. However these names are rarely, if ever, used and the bright red star at the top of the V is generally known as Aldebaran, the name given it by the Arabian astronomers.

During ancient times there was a certain amount of ill-feeling directed toward the Hyades, just as in the case of the "mad stars" in Auriga, for it was thought that since this group of stars rose in November when the stormy weather usually began they exerted an unsettling influence on the atmosphere, which caused rain. The word itself is derived from the Greek word meaning rain.

"Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea."

In April when the Hyades set they also "Vext the dim sea" so by watching these stars the ancients were forewarned when the stormy weather and rain was at hand. Hesiod, who gave the ancient world one of its most famous poems, "Works and Days," mentions that when the Hyades are near the horizon they seem to disturb the calm of the waters and when the "Pleiades, Hyades and Orion set, it is time to plow again. But not to go to sea!" Aratus further warned the seamen at this point by reminding them that only a thin plank separates the sailor from Hades.

Kippax remarks that the "watery" or "moist" reputation of the Hyades may be due partly to the legend that the sisters were metamorphosed into stars for immoderately bewailing the fate of their brother Hyas who had been killed by a wild boar. Perhaps the sisters still think of Hyas when near the horizon and their unrestrained tears pour in floods upon the earth. But according to another legend, the Hyades were cloud nymphs and it was their nature to be incessantly weeping.

The beautiful, rose-colored star Aldebaran, "the eye of the Bull," flashes on the end of this V of stars. Like Antares, Betelgeuse and the planet Mars, its rare and colorful light shines like a beacon among the gold and silver of more somber stars.

Aldebaran is a much larger sun than ours and gives 45 times as much light. What a contrast to our sun with its sunflower shade would be this one of a wild-rose pink! But the restful greens of little earth are much to be preferred, with Aldebaran a star in the heavens, 28 light years away.

A little to the west and north of the star, on the tip of the southern horn of Taurus, lies the "Crab Nebula," so-called on account of its resemblance to a crab. This nebula is often mistaken for a comet. The two horns of the Bull reach over into the Milky Way, just below Capella.

The star group of the Hyades rises a little north of east about 12 P. M. in September. By the first of November they are all rising as early as 8 P. M. and by the latter part of January are directly in the south. At such a time, they have been picturesquely likened to a "flock of wild geese flying southward."

Even so small a glass as an opera-glass will disclose a rich field of small stars about Taurus. These stars look as if they had been shuffled and had fallen together in interesting little groups of lights, which are very pleasing to the eye.

The Pleiades

The Pleiades are visible from August until May. Five of the stars in this group may be plainly seen although most people can see six and many with keen eyesight can see seven and even nine. The telescope reveals about 3000 more surrounding the group which gives the appearance of mistiness in the vicinity of each star. These stars fill a space in the heavens equal to about 180 millions of millions of miles!

The five more important stars of the Pleiades lie in the form of a short-handled dipper. This is the fourth clearly marked dipper found in the sky—the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, the Milk Dipper and the Dipper of the Pleiades. These stars are also, with the Hyades, Præsepe, Coma Berenices and the cluster on the Sword Handle of Perseus, among the few clusters visible to the unaided eye.

"Small is the place that holds them and singly they dimly shine."

Seven of the stars in the Pleiad group, named after the daughters of Atlas, are called Alcyone, Merope, Electra, Celæno, Taygeta, Maia and Asterope. Two other stars were named after the father Atlas and the mother Pleione. The Hyades and the Plei
Photograph by Yerkes Observatory through the 40-inch refracting telescope.

ades, or the twelve sisters which Taurus carries across the sky every winter's evening, are altogether called "The Atlantides." Atlas, by the way, also gave his name to the second largest body of water on earth, the Atlantic Ocean.

Since the Pleiad group may be seen from every civilized country in the world, the stars have a host of legends, songs and stories twined about them. One idea, however, has run like a herald through all these widely separated countries and that is that one of the stars of the Pleiades was lost and that there were originally seven bright stars.
The "Little Dipper of the Pleiades."
Although it is generally agreed that one of the Pleiads was lost, opinions seem to differ as to whether it was Electra or Merope as these two sisters had earthly reasons for sorrow; Merope, for instance, hiding embarrassed because she had married a mortal when all of her sisters had married gods. Another legend claims that it was Pleione, mother of the seven sisters, who was lost. Pickering, taking a practical view, believes that the true "Lost Pleiad" was Pleione, for the spectroscope reveals her star to be a variable star.

To the ancient people of Greece who taught even their children how to tell the time of the day by the position of the sun and what to do when certain stars rose and set, it would have been unpardonable not to have known the Pleiades. They thought that the gods had set the stars in the sky to keep the people from living in confusion. Thus Jupiter tells

"when the land
Must be upturned by ploughshare or by spade—
What time to plant the olive or the vine—
What time to fling on earth the golden grain.
For He it was who scattered o'er the sky
The shining stars, and fixed them where they are—
Provided constellations through the year,
To mark the seasons in their changeless course."

The farmer and the sailor, especially, watched the rising and the setting of the stars and abided by the advice in Hesiod's "Works and Days":

"when the snail, in fear of the Pleiades, climbs up the young plants, sharpen your sickle for the harvest—"

"At the rising of the Atlas-born Pleiades begin harvesting but plowing when they set."

"When Atlas-born, the Pleiad stars arise
Before the sun above the dawning skies,
'Tis time to reap; and when they sink below
The mom-illumined west, 'tis time to sow."

The rising of Orion an hour and a half later was also a sign from heaven that the season for threshing had arrived.

"Forget not when Orion first appears
o make your servants thresh the sacred ears."

But when the giant is in midheaven it is time for vintage. At this time Orion has backed the Bull pretty far over in the west and the Greeks watch the frightened Pleiades drop into the sea. It is now a dangerous time for small crafts to venture forth.

"When the Pleiades, fleeing the mighty strength of Orion, fall into the murky sea"

make the boats secure for the sailing season is over.

"The Pleiads and Hiads make the seasons,
The Dogstarre maketh the heat of Sommer."
—1507, Golding De Mornay.

Yet the people around the Mediterranean were not the only ones who considered the importance of these stars. Spence in "Myths of Mexico and Peru" tells with what trepidation the ancient Mexican people watched, every period of 52 years, the passage of these stars across the zenith.

"With the conclusion of each period of fifty-two years a terrible dread came upon the Mexicans that the world would come to an end. A stated period of time had expired, a period which was regarded as fixed by divine command, and it had been ordained that on the completion of one of those series of fifty-two years earthly time would cease and the universe be demolished. The Mexicans then abandoned themselves to utmost prostration and the wicked went about in terrible fear. As the first day of the fifty-third year dawned the people narrowly observed the Pleiades, for if they passed the zenith, time would proceed and the world would become respited."

Perhaps the reason for periodical recurrence of this fear lay in the old Mexican tradition that the world was once destroyed when the Pleiades culminated at midnight.

Poets in all lands have sung the praises of the Pleiad stars. Probably the most quoted are those from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall." These are so truly beautiful that one almost involuntarily repeats them whenever the huge giant Orion or this lovely star group comes into view.

"Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the west.

"Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid."

And Bayard Taylor speaks of

"The stars that once were mortal in their love,
And by their love are made immortal now,
Cluster like golden bees upon thy mane."

The poets, with their magic words, make the stars seem close to us, despite the fact that science tells us that the Pleiades, for instance, lie so far away in space that it takes 200 years for their light to reach the earth.

Since December, when Orion and Taurus are at their best, is the month of beautiful stars, let us look around the heavens and see how many of them we are able to recognize.

From the far northeast to the far northwest, passing just a little north of the zenith, the Milky Way stretches in one continuous line of splendor. Up and down the heavenly vault, hundreds of diamond-like little stars glitter like gleams from pinholes in heaven, while the large stars hang down through the cold, black nights almost within reaching distance. One may now count ten brilliant stars of the first magnitude, but the configuration of stars which forms the constellation of Orion and the peerless Dog Star, Sirius, are the stars which hold the eye. Watch the Dog Star rise in the east about 9 o'clock during the first part of December or about 8 o'clock later in the month. If all the other stars burn like wind-enflamed jewels, Sirius sputters and sparkles like a bonfire of Jupiter's lightning rods.

Across the Milky Way from Sirius, the yellow star Procyon, the head-star on the Little Dog, is also appearing, while in the west, two large stars are setting, the scene being almost duplicated. Thus, paraphrasing the words of the ancient poet Aratus, "when the Dogs appear in the east, the Birds set in the west."

Above Procyon, and on the same side of the Milky Way, shine Castor and Pollux, the Heavenly Twins, seemingly with an eye on the battle of the Giant and the red-eyed Bull; above the Bull's horns glows Capella, always an attractive star but not as radiant when near the meridian as when rising in the east. This is also true of Cassiopeia's Chair, now in the zenith, and of the Segment of Perseus, the Chain of Andromeda and the Square of Pegasus, which lie just below her. The Cross is now descending in the west, closely following Vega and Altair, while low in the southwest, Formalhaut is just about to disappear below our view. The North Star shines, as always, in its fixed place in the sky, but Ursa Minor now hangs perilously by the tip of his tail with nothing between him and the northern horizon but the straggling form of Draco and the brightly decorated tail of Ursa Major. Ursa Major is just about ready to climb the eastern slope and patiently continue on his endless circle around the pole. Along the southern horizon, the stars are faint, for here lies Cetus, the dark-sided Sea-monster, and the glints on the river Eridanus which rolls down to the 'Sea.'

Castor and Pollux

According to legendary history, Castor and Pollux were the sons of Leda and the brothers of Helen of Troy. These twins were noted near and far for their bravery and had divine honors paid to them both in Sparta and in Rome. Their boyhood days were spent on Mount Pelion under the guidance of the wise centaur Chiron, but they spent most of their manhood adventuring, one of their best known exploits being the journey after the Golden Fleece on the ship Argo. During this journey a great storm arose and the frail little bark, whose only power was its fifty oars and the strong arms of the heroes, was tossed about like a shell. Orpheus, with his magic harp, sought to calm the waters and soothe the fears of the oarsmen, and had just about succeeded when two stars suddenly shone above the heads of the twins. This, of course, was static electricity, which sometimes appears like two stars of light attaching itself to each mast, but the Greeks considered it a sign from Jupiter that all was well and that there was nothing to fear from the storm. The Argo went on in safety, and ever after lights at the mastheads were called "Castor and Pollux" and sailors predict fair weather from their appearance.

"The Greeks called them Castor and Pollux—which some call Hermes fire; Saint Elmo others."

Sometimes, however, but one light is seen. This is then called "Helena," after their sister, and is regarded as foreboding a storm.

As a reward for their great affection (for the twins even shared their immortality together since only one was immortal), Jupiter placed them among the stars under the name of Gemini, and the two bright stars in this constellation were placed upon their brows. Sailors love these stars for they are well above the eastern horizon during the first part of January and are visible during the remainder of the stormy season of the year. They watch them and know that if both stars are visible at the same time, the weather is clearing.

"Thus the twins, indulgent save
The shatter'd vessel from the wave."
Idyllium XXII (Fawke's Trans.)

If the storm continues to rage and the stars remain hidden behind the clouds

"sailors trembling
Call on the twins of Jove with prayer and vow."

Gemini, the constellation of the Twins, lies near the stream of the Milky Way, just above Procyon, below Capella, and in front of Leo, the Lion. The feet of the Twins are among the stars at the edge of the stream, while their heads extend northeast, in the same general direction as the horns of Taurus, the Bull, which are thrust into the stream on the other side. The Twins have no connection with the story of Orion and the Bull, although their constellation is so situated that one might consider them as interested spectators.

The stars on the brows of the Twins are not exactly twin stars for one is brighter than the other and, although they look much alike to the unaided eye, a telescope reveals their delicate colors. The star on Pollux is then seen to be a pale orange while that on Castor is a greenish-white. Pollux is also a triple star, described by one observer as "pale orange, lilac and gray." Castor is equally interesting, for a 3-inch telescope resolves it into two brilliant stars. The spectroscope, making further discoveries, disclosed the fact that a companion whirls around the fainter component, completing its orbit in 3 days, while the brighter component also has a companion which completes its orbit in 9 days. These four stars, which form the star we call Castor, revolve in pairs about a common center of gravity, completing their period in about 900 years.

The Heavenly Twins claim a unique distinction—that of having a planet found at their feet; Sir William Herschel, an English astronomer, has the equally unique distinction of having found the planet. This planet was surely an odd and interesting thing for a mortal to discover for it is not only a gaseous globe 32,000 miles in diameter, but its pole points almost at the sun at one time in its 84-year journey, causing it to have 42 years of daylight and 42 years of night! This was the first planet added to the five known since antiquity and its discovery was a joyful surprise. The boundary line of the solar system was now greatly increased for Uranus travels in an orbit which lies at an average distance of 1,771,000,000 miles from the sun. In accordance with the ancient custom of naming the planets after the immortals on Mount Olympus, the planet was named Uranus, after the God of the starry sky.

A wonderful star cluster was later discovered also at the feet of the Twins,—a little northwest of the feet of Castor. This is designated at 34M on star-maps and may be located in the sky even with a field-glass.

Castor and Pollux may be found a little south of the zenith during the evenings of February and March. Castor, which is the higher star, passes the meridian first, but Pollux, the brighter star, passes it 11 minutes later. They are sometimes called "Ledæan lights" in honor of Leda, their mother. Owen Meredith in "The Wanderer" says

"The lone Ledæan lights from yon enchanted air,
Look down upon my spirit like spirit's eyes that love me."

Because of their nearness and similarity to one another, old English people sometimes call them the "Giant's Eyes."

We have now covered the most important constellations and have seen that a little knowledge of romance, beauty, story and fact add wonderfully to the spectacle of a heaven filled with stars. The thrill of rediscovery is for every individual who learns a little science; the romance and beauty for every heart which feels a little song.

From an open plain, the boundless sea, or the solitude of a mountain, the stars seem to hold their greatest appeal. If one knows the name of a star or two, one will find, as in "The Wanderer," a comradeship that is comforting.

Bayard Taylor, who often wrote about the stars, looked up, in a foreign land, and saw "Above the palms, the peaks of pearly gray,"
Relative positions of the constellations "grouped about the pole," those appearing in "the story of Andromeda," the "Spring and Summer Pageant," and the "story of Orion and Taurus, the Bull."
Canopus, a star of the southern hemisphere, only surpassed by Sirius.

"An urn of light, a golden-hearted torch,
Voluptuous, drowsy-throbbing mid the stars,
As, incense-fed, from Aphrodite's porch
Lifted to beacon Mars."


"Ah, bliss to lie beside the jasper urn
Of founts, and through the open arabesque
To watch Canopus burn!"

Let us face the heavens and dream for a moment, forget the earth—let it drop away—just drift and dream.

"Ring out, ye crystal spheres!
Once bless our human ears
(If ye have power to charm our senses so;)
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time,
(And let the base of Heaven's deep organ blow;)
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full concert with angelic symphony."

How rapturously the poets have dwelt upon the music of the crystalline spheres! How sad that the volume of it was so excessive that the ear could not hear it! And great it must have been with the whirr of a globe so huge that it contained eight concentric crystalline spheres whirling around every twenty-four hours and resounding with the stars as they rolled in their orbits.

This idea of the crystal spheres of ancient astronomy was beautifully described by Milton in "Paradise Lost." Milton believed without a doubt in the theories of Copernicus who taught that the sun was a center of a system of planets which revolved about it at various distances, but he probably used this old conception of the universe because it gave him more artistic freedom in the writing of his great epic poem. Let us pursue this fascinating theme, while drifting and dreaming, and see in what way the great poet painted it in as a background for his story.

Milton pictured the boundless cosmos as divided into two parts—the "resplendent Kingdom of Heaven" which rested in brightness above, and the "turbulent darkness of Chaos" which surged in blackness below. Our "cheerful sun-illumined Universe" was thought to be contained in an opaque sphere which hung from the floor of Heaven by a golden chain. At the rebellion of Satan and his rebel followers, God hurled them through the floor of Heaven and down through the darkness of immeasurable space to a place in Chaos hollowed out to receive them. This place contained such dire discomforts that Satan in his wrath swore revenge.

Satan had heard that in order to hollow out this awful place in Chaos, the ether, which was believed to fill all space, flew upward

"spirited with various forms,
That rowl'd orbicular, and turned to starrs."

the stars walling-in a Universe which was to contain a dwelling place for a new race which might eventually take the place of the rebels cast from Heaven. The stars were then surrounded by a translucent shell which protected this new creation from the cold and tempests of outer space.

Satan searched long and ardently through the darkness for this splendid ball of light. Finally he found it, hanging on its golden chain from Heaven, and, descending within by the radiant stairway of the angels, passed the stars and the planets in their sliding spheres of impalpable crystal, and discovered the earth, radiant in the brightness of the sun! Of the further adventures of Satan we need not speak, but the handling of the whole subject is masterly and brought to Milton undying fame.

The idea of the crystalline spheres first came to Eudoxus in the 4th century B. C. from watching the movements of the planets among the stars. He imagined that there must be nine of these hollow, transparent globes enclosed one within the other and surrounding the quiescent body of the earth; first, the "primum mobile," which carried around all the inner spheres and communicated to them a universal motion, next a sphere for all the stars, then one for the sun, one for the moon, and one for each of the five planets then known. These spheres were conceived to be of the finest crystal, for past the wandering stars or planets, the light came penetrating from that distant sphere studded with stars.

The daily movements of these stars were watched as they were carried along on their spheres, and it was seen that they moved in law and order. Noting that the planets seemed to be placed at intervals corresponding to the scale in music and being at the same time greatly impressed with the discovery that music was based on mathematics, he beautifully combined these discoveries and arrived at the entrancing conclusion that so great and orderly a movement of so many crystal spheres must give forth strains which united in a wonderful harmony of incredible volume and sweetness. The picture is enchanting-a beautiful world set in the midst of whirling, star-gemmed, crystalline globes, which by their motion, create a melody so divine that it may only be heard by the gods!

With the advent of modern science, our thoughts now wing their way through unobstructed star spaces of once crystalline spheres, to the great space beyond, and find in the void of what the ancients termed "chaos," not one "sun-illuminated" universe but millions of them, some so distant that they appear no more than a filmy mist on a petal or a ghost of a fairy cloud!

To the true lover of the stars, one universe or a million makes not a whit of difference. The silent song of the heavens is as sweet today, its mystery as alluring, its delights more marvelous, than in the days of yore when planets rolled out heavenly notes and stars shone through the seven spheres of pure, translucent crystal.