4396859The Music of the Spheres — Chapter VII.Florence Armstrong Grondal



Aquila, the Eagle. Sagittarius, the Archer.
Delphinus, the Dolphin. Hydra, the Water-snake.
Auriga, the Charioteer.

The above constellations, which lie to either side of the great summer parade of star-figures which crosses the heavenly dome, will be called, for convenience in locating them, "the spectators."

The story of the "spectator" Ophiuchus, who is grasping Serpens (which is a separate constellation but usually mentioned in conjunction with Ophiuchus), has already been mentioned under the adventures of the giant Hercules, and that of Crater, the Cup and of Corvus, the Crow, will appear in connection with the Water-snake. The four large stars in the southern part of the sky—Spica, Antares, Formalhaut and Sirius—are, however, better taken in a group by themselves, for they are thus more easily remembered as large stars conspicuous in different seasons of the year in a region where large stars are scarce.

Aquila, the Eagle

Aquila, the Eagle, was given a constellation not far below the Cross, at the edge of the Milky Way. This Eagle is designated as the Flying Eagle so as not to be confused with the Eagle which holds Lyra, the Harp. In mythology the eagle was supposed to be the bird of Jupiter because it could fly higher than other birds. This particular eagle stood by the throne in the palace on Mount Olympus and carried the thunderbolts in his claws.

"He, a bird, supplies the heavens with sacred bolts and arms the skies."

The Eagle pictured on the star maps is a very large bird, but the only portion of him not difficult to locate in the sky are the three bright stars which hang like a bar across his neck.
The Three Birds
These stars alone suggest a bird flying with outstretched wings. This is a region of birds, for the great Cross with Cygnus, the Swan, drifts down the Milky Way between the two Eagles. The "three birds" are most effective and easily located when seen on the meridian in midsummer, for they then form a large triangle across the star stream, Lyra and Aquila being at the edges of the stream and at the base of the triangle with the center of the Cross at its peak.

One day Jupiter sent this eagle who is now in the sky down from Mount Olympus to seize a beautiful youth named Ganymede who was tending his father's flocks on Mount Ida. This youth was then carried up to the palaces of the Gods and given the position of cupbearer. The Greeks believed that Jupiter gave Ganymede's grieving father a pair of divine horses as a compensation for kidnaping his boy and comforted him at the same time by saying that Ganymede had now become immortal and free from all earthly ills. The eagle was rewarded for its daring by being placed among the constellations. Ganymede was also, in due time, honored in the same manner and is represented by the constellation Aquarius, the Waterbearer, despite the fact that it was nectar, and not water, that this youth poured in the cups of the gods. Aquarius lies east of Aquila.

The large white star in the center of the three stars which hang on the neck of the Eagle is called Altair. Altair rises a little north of east with its twin stars Alshain and Trazed, about 9 o'clock on the 29th of May. It arrives at the meridian at 10 o'clock August 18th, at 9 o'clock September 2nd, and at 8 o'clock September 18th. It is then about two-thirds of the way up from the horizon. The three stars are called "The Shaft of Altair." Altair is one of the nearest of the brightest stars and is approaching the earth at the rate of 20 miles a second. You may step out now and look up at this star with a personal interest, but it is still far away. Indeed it is so very far away that generations will live and die and still an increase in its light will scarcely be noticeable.

A small arrow studded with five stars lies, pointing east, in the Milky Way, slightly to the north of Altair. These stars lie in the constellation of Sagitta, the Arrow, which the Greeks may have considered an arrow of Hercules aimed at one of the bird constellations, or the arrow with which the hero slew the vulture which tormented Prometheus on the top of the Caucasus mountains. It is sometimes also called "Cupid's Arrow." Sagitta is one of the oldest of the constellations, its history being lost even in the time of Aratus.

Delphinus, the Dolphin

Delphinus, the Dolphin, may be located 10 degrees to the northeast of Aquila, the Eagle, and below and to the east of Cygnus, on the Milky Way. It is popularly known as "Job's Coffin," which, ridiculous or not, is said to have originated from the "diamond-shaped" form in which its stars are set. This conception, however, places less strain on the imagination than in the case of Pegasus (whose nose starred by Enif lies 10 degrees southeast of Delphinus), where the four principal stars form a "square" and are called a "Flying Horse." But the name of Job's Coffin, as mentioned before, is merely a popular name while Delphinus, the constellation known as the Dolphin, was named in honor of a dolphin connected with the adventures of Arion, far-famed as a musician of Corinth about 700 B. C.

The dolphin which the map-makers drew on the star-maps is an exceedingly plump and queer-looking animal. As Admiral Smith comically remarks, it looks more "like a huge periwinkle pulled out of its shell." In reality dolphins are anything but periwinklian, for they belong to the whale family. They grow to be from six to eight feet in length and travel in herds, and have been seen by the writer gamboling and playing on the surface of the sea in the most remarkable manner. They are supposed to be strongly attracted toward harmonious sounds such as music, delight in racing with passing ships and seem to be of an exceptionally friendly nature toward man. On this foundation was based the legend of Arion, first given by Herodotus and afterwards decorated by the poets.

Arion had been sent by Periander, ruler of Corinth, to Sicily and Italy, and at Tarentum had won the prize in a musical contest. As he returned laden with gifts in a Corinthian ship, the musician was attacked by avaricious sailors determined to do away with him and take possession of his goods. Warned by Apollo in a dream, Arion lured close a troop of friendly dolphins by the sweet strains of his cithara. Leaping to the back of an admiring one, he was carried to the promontory of Tænarus, where he landed and journeyed on to Corinth. For this praiseworthy deed, the gods raised the dolphin among the constellations.

Another legend tells us that when Neptune, Ruler of the Sea, courted the lovely, dark-eyed nymph Amphitrite, he came riding on the back of a dolphin. As his courtship was successful, he rewarded the dolphin in the usual way, by gaining permission to have him placed among the stars.

Sagittarius, the Archer

Sagittarius, the Archer, is supposed to be a centaur, one of a fabulous race seen on the plains of Thessaly and about the woods of Mount Pelion. This race was supposed to possess the body of a horse and the head and shoulders of a man but none of them had ever amounted to much or accomplished anything of worth in the world, with the grand exception of one centaur, whose name was Chiron. Chiron lived in a stone cave near the summit of Mount Pelion and it was here that all the heroes of Greece—Hercules, Jason, Castor and Pollux, Æsculapius, Achilles and others—spent their early lives, for Chiron was famous for his knowledge and served these young men as a tutor. He not only taught them all the manly arts but he aided them in various enterprising adventures, such as marking out the constellations for the heroes when they went with Jason in the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece.

One day Hercules unfortunately opened the fatal wine-jar, and the odor, floating about on the breezes, attracted hordes of common centaurs who fought ferociously to gain possession of it. Hercules managed to kill most of them with the arrows he had dipped in the blood of the poisonous hydra, but his old master was also accidentally wounded by one of the terrible barbs. Any wound, however slight, inoculated with this poison, was certain to prove fatal, but the centaur Chiron was immortal and could not die. Retiring to his cave, he prayed to the gods to deprive him of his immortality so that he might be released from his suffering, and to accept him as an atonement for Prometheus, the gigantic Titan "Forethought," who wished for immortality so that he might always be an aid to man. This Titan, in his eagerness to aid mankind, had once displeased the gods by secretly climbing up to heaven, lighting a reed at the fire of the sun, and bringing down the holy flame as a gift to the human race. He thus was the founder of civilization.

"Resentment stung the Thunderer's inmost soul,
And his heart chafed in anger, when he saw
The fire far-gleaming in the midst of man."

Not only did Jupiter punish the Titan by chaining him to a crag in the Caucasus mountains at the eastern end of the earth, but he sent Pandora to the Titan's brother Epimetheus, and Pandora, through her unrestrained curiosity, opened a forbidden box and let out all the woes and sorrows which now roam the world. Since, however, ungrateful mankind had informed on Prometheus, he rewarded them with a remedy for old age—which was slyly stolen by a snake as the gift was being conveyed down the mountain. Thus snakes renew their youth by casting off their skins while men suffer helplessly with all the evils that prey upon the old. But Jupiter now felt such great pity for Chiron in his torture that he somewhat forgot his indignation at Prometheus (and anyway mortals had been using fire for many generations and it had spread to such an extent that it was now past regaining), so the great god granted Chiron's prayer that he might sacrifice his immortality for the release of Prometheus. Hercules then made his way up the precipice where Prometheus was bound, killed the vulture which was torturing him, struck off his chains and set him free. The centaur was then made mortal, released from his sufferings by the gentle balm of death, placed in the heavens and beautified with stars.

This centaur, now called Sagittarius, the Archer, was given a constellation near the southern horizon, indeed, he lies so far to the south that he is partially hidden from view and only the head and bow and arrow may be seen by most of us living in the United States. His constellation may be easily located by first finding the Scorpion, which has a large, well-defined anchor-shaped figure marked in the center by a brilliantly red first magnitude star.

The Greeks imagined that the Arrow of the Archer was drawn and held against the bow. Ovid says that the Archer "Thrusts the Scorpion with his bended bow." However, most of the people in these United States call the Bow and Arrow a "Milk Dipper" because its stars seem to outline a little Dipper embedded in the stream of the Milky Way. Thus we have fancy adorned and plain fancy. The arrow, the stars in the bow and two other stars form this little Dipper which is best seen directly in the south, near the horizon, on September first at 8 P. M. Sagittarius is low in the south at the same time that Vega is on the meridian.

In the star-maps, the Centaur is shown halting at the edge of the star stream and aiming across its mist of light at the great red star which flutters on the heart of the Scorpion. The Scorpion, however, is pictured as observing with interest the nearby tail of the many-headed watersnake although he is almost crushed by the mighty foot of the giant Ophiuchus whose head lies high up in the sky against that of Hercules. The Centaur's group of stars, the constellation of Sagittarius, is a zodiacal constellation, with the arrow and part of the bow for its symbol. ♐︎

There is also another centaur in the sky but no part of him can be seen in these latitudes. This constellation contains two famous stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri, sometimes called the "Southern Pointers" because they point to the figure of the Southern Cross. These two stars are on the Centaur's forefeet. Alpha Centauri is the nearest star to the earth, lying at a distance of only 25,000,000,000,000 miles. Unthinkable as this number of miles may seem, it is such a short distance across the fields of the heavens that Alpha Centauri and our sun would appear to be very close together as seen from the planets of other stars. Thus our kingdom of the sun is not an isolated isle among the dim star-lights of space, but shines as one of the stars in a community of such kingdoms. The tiny star 61 Cygni is the nearest star to the earth as seen from the northern hemisphere.


Hydra, the Water-snake

Hydra, the Water-snake, first rears a venomous head above the eastern horizon on January 5th about 9 P. M. He slowly squirms along the southern horizon, his length being so appalling that it takes him four months to completely pass any one point in the sky.

Along the body of this Water-snake are scattered a few 4th magnitude stars. The twinkling lights of these stars may be followed far to the south and then east, almost to the boundary of Scorpio. Indeed, when the Water-snake is completely above the horizon, as he is in April, these stars show that his long length stretches over nearly a quarter of the sky! Some poets state that this creature had one hundred heads, others claim that he had only nine. However this may be, there is only one that is easily traced and this lies, triangle-shaped, just below Leo, the Lion.

The only noticeably bright marking on the Water-snake is the orange-hued star of the second magnitude which lies upon the reptile's heart. This star is called Cor Hydræ after its location, but it also has the name of Alphard, the Solitary. Since the naming of the star, science has discovered the latter name to be rather a misnomer for it has a telescopic companion of a pale shade of green. Cor Hydræ rises in the early evening on the 21st of February, and passes the meridian about 9 o'clock during the middle of March.

The northernmost star of the group that marks the head is also a double. This double consists of two stars of the 4th and 8th magnitudes, the larger one being yellow and the smaller purple.

Two geometrical figures called Corvus, the Crow, and Crater, the Cup, rest on the back of this Lernean Hydra. These two small constellations are easily traced, one having the form of a quadrilateral figure and the other a section of a circle. Kippax says that Crater has been variously called the Cup of Hercules, the Cup of Achilles, the Cup of Medea and the Wine Cup of Noah. The Greeks called Crater the "Goblet of Apollo" but according to Manilius it was the "generous Bowl of Bacchus," God of Wine.

During the springtime, Hydra, the Water-snake, may be seen creeping along the horizon in the south.

Although this Water-snake is generally represented as the one connected with the Labors of Hercules, there is also another legend which combines the Crow, the Cup and the Snake in one tale. The crow was at one time Apollo's favorite bird until one day, in anger at its tale bearing, the Sun-god turned its color from pure white to black and forbade it to fly any longer among other birds. On another occasion this provoking little servant was given a cup and told to fetch some water for a sacrifice to Jupiter. Instead of attending to its duty, however, it loitered at a fig tree until the fruit became ripe, then returned to the God with a watersnake in his claws and a lie on his tongue. For punishment the crow was fixed in the sky with the cup and the snake, the latter being charged never to allow him to drink—although the constellation Hydra, which stretches over a quarter of the sky, is certainly not the same little reptile which the crow carried from the spring.

Auriga, the Charioteer

"The Charioteer" is an ancient title retained by the constellation Auriga, although in the star-maps one usually finds a man of huge stature carrying a goat and two frightened kids.

"Far in the north his giant form begins,
Reaching athwart the sky the distant Twins."

Auriga, according to the earliest Grecian legends, was a chariot-driver identified with Erechtheus, son of the God Vulcan. Erechtheus inherited lameness from his father who was twice thrown from Mount Olympus, the second time falling on the Island of Lemnos instead of the sea,—which broke his ankle. His son, fretting under the inconvenience caused by his deformity, invented the four-horse chariot which provided himself and others with an easy way of traveling from place to place. For this achievement Jupiter rewarded him with a constellation, choosing five bright stars which actually somewhat resemble an ancient chariot.

"His art great Jove admired, when first he drove
His rattling Car, and fix'd the Youth above."

Yet, on the star-maps, the Charioteer is pictured with a goat on his shoulders, instead of driving a chariot, although sometimes a chariot has also been represented. Allen says that modern research gives us reason to believe that the constellation was delineated by the early star-gazers of the Euphrates valley millenniums ago and perhaps the Greeks merely impressed their legends on another figure as it is possible they also did in the case of Hercules. The goat which the Charioteer holds, according to one tradition, was the goat on whose milk the infant Jupiter was fed after he had been carried to the island of Crete to escape being devoured by his father Saturn, the God of Time.

"The sacred goat upon his shoulder rests,
To infant Jove she gave a mother's breast."

and then

"Grateful he placed her there,
And bade her kids their mother's honour share."

It is further related that one day while playing with the goat, Jupiter accidentally broke off one of its horns. In atonement, he filled the horn with fruits and flowers—the horn of plenty—and consoled the goat by giving it a constellation. The brilliant star, Capella, lies on the heart of this goat, the name signifying "the little She-goat," and not only the Greeks and Romans, but the ancient Peruvians, far across the ocean, connected this star with the affairs of shepherds. English poets refer to Capella as the "Shepherd's Star."

In the hand of this "mighty man seated on the Milky Way," who is sometimes called the Charioteer or the Wagoner, are the two kids which were raised with their mother to the stars. These kids may be recognized by a small triangle of stars not far from Capella. They were often called the "frightened kids" by the ancients. No wonder they looked frightened—the long horns of the red-eyed Taurus are lowered in the sky below them, the gleaming blade of the hero Perseus is brandished among the stars not far to the side of them and the huge bulk of the Great Bear is shadowed in the darkness just beyond them. The ancient people also called them the "horrid, mad stars" and feared their influence on the weather, for it so happened that these timid little creatures were either near the eastern or the western horizon during the storm weather. Since this coincidence happened year after year without fail, it was felt that the Kids were in some way responsible for it.

"Tempt not the winds forewarned of dangers nigh,
When the Kids glitter in the western sky."
Callimachus, 240 B.C.

Such severe storms were so common on the Mediterranean when they glittered in the eastern sky during their early rising in October, that their appearance was a signal for the closing of navigation. After the stars had made their final disappearance in the west, the people held a festival to celebrate their great relief and joy. The Kids were certainly not a popular star group with the ancient seaman's wife, for literature pictures her as clasping her hands and gazing fearfully out to sea as the winds and waves swirled and leaped under the influence of the "mad stars" and imperiled the safety of her dear ones.

The beautiful first magnitude star Capella may be seen any month of the year except July. It lies below and to the north of Perseus (three bright stars dangling below the Big W) and may be sighted in a straight line from the top of the bowl of the Big Dipper. In the early evening on February 5th it lies exactly on the meridian halfway between Orion and the North Star, while in August it is low in the northeast and in June low in the northwest.

The spectroscope has shown that Capella really consists of two great suns of nearly equal brilliance. These two stars lie so close together that there is not much more than half the distance between our earth and sun between them,—and they revolve around this common center of gravity in only 104.2 days! As they revolve around this point the lines in the spectroscope periodically split, thus proving the double nature of the star. In the present state of our knowledge about eight stars out of twenty are binaries or multiples.

Short as seems the period of revolution of Capella and its companion compared to Sirius and its companion, which is about 50 years, or the couple of couples composing Castor, which is about 900 years, there are stars so close that they complete a revolution in a few hours. The very atmospheres of one pair of suns, δ Cephei, perhaps intertwine like lovers' arms, for they whirl about their common center of gravity in only 4½ hours!

The distance of Capella from the earth has been estimated as being about 34 light years. A light year is the distance that light would travel in one year at the rate of 186,000 miles a second. This is about six million million miles! Thus the twin suns in the system of Capella could have rolled off their tracks and exploded into atoms 29 years ago and yet we would know nothing of this catastrophe for 5 years to come.

The fact that light takes a certain amount of time to travel and is not instantaneous, was first discovered by watching the little moons of the planet Jupiter, although it has since been determined from experiments on the surface of the earth. For a long time, an astronomer could foretell on what night and hour an eclipse of a given satellite would occur but he could not make the predicted minute agree with the actual time of eclipse. During the seventeenth century, Roemer, a Danish astronomer, discovered that the eclipses come 8 minutes and 18 seconds early when the earth is nearest to Jupiter and 8 minutes and 18 seconds late when it is on the opposite side of its orbit. He thus was the first to suspect that light could not flash instantaneously across the 186,000,000 miles which is the diameter of the earth's orbit. After it was found that light required 8 minutes and 8 seconds to come from the sun to the earth, it was a simple matter to find the space that it would move over in a year. This number, 63,368 radii of the earth's orbit or about six million million miles, has been since taken as a handy unit of measure in estimating the distances to the stars. Thus a light year is the distance that light will travel in a year at the rate of 186,000 miles a second. An astronomer expressing the distance of a star in terms of this unit would say that Alpha Centauri is 4.26 light years distant instead of 25,000,000,000,000 miles, and 4.26 years would represent the time that it takes light to come from that star to the earth.

Although it takes light only about 8 minutes to reach the earth from the sun and about 4 years from the nearest star, it requires only one second from the moon, which is nearer than the sun, and 47 years from the North Star, which is a long way from being our nearest star. Sirius, our largest star, is distant only 8½ light years, but Vega and Capella, which rank just below it, are respectively three and four times farther away. Some stars are so distant that it requires thousands of years for their light to reach us. According to the calculations of Kapteyn, only one-eighth of the 6200 stars whose distance was measured are nearer than 100 light years. Four of these stars are known to be within 10 light years—Alpha Centauri, Sirius, Barnard's "runaway star," and one of the 7th magnitude known as Lalande 21,185. Yet all of these stars, those which are only a few light years away and those which are hundreds of light years away, seem suddenly to be our neighbors, when we think of them as being grouped within the protecting arms of the Milky Way, and the space between, which science has measured, loses some of its awfulness.

Our neighbor Capella is a beautiful star. It flashes like a great solitaire, a star-poem of loveliness in color. Early in August, in the far northeast, its creamy-whiteness is accentuated by seashell pinks which splash through the thickened atmosphere like the effervescence of a rainbow. This star, with two others,—Vega, a delicate blue and Arcturus, an orange-gold,—are the three brightest stars nearest the north. Since they are easy to locate and visible most of the year they are usually the star lover's favorites among the stars. Learn to locate these exquisite isles of starlight by using the Big Dipper as a base from which to start.

How to locate Vega, Capella, and Arcturus with the aid of the Big Dipper. Note also drawing on page 43.