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Argo Navis – Vela

Etymology – The Sails (Latin)

Pronunciation: VEE-luh or VAY-luh

Also known as: Sails

Argo Navis – Obsolete Constellation

The name Argo Navis is the name of a now-obsolete constellation, it had long been known and observed by the ancient Greeks and other stargazers. For the Greeks and much of the Western World, the Argo Navis is associated with the story of Jason and the Argonauts

Early modern astronomers simply referred to this constellation as Navis. This constellation was rather large, taking up much of the southern sky. By the time we get to 1752, French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille decided to divide the Argo Navis into three smaller constellations of Carina, Puppis, and Vela. The final, breaking up Argo Navis into smaller constellations came in 1841 and 1844 by Sir John Herschel.  In 1930, the IAU officially acknowledged this break up with the formalization of the 88 modern constellations used. Vela is the second largest of the three newish appointed constellations, it does represent the sails of the ship, The Argos.

The constellation Pyxis, the compass, locates an area of the night sky near the mast of the Argo Navis. Some scholars will include and say it was part of the Argo Navis, others will point out that magnetic compasses were not known or used by the ancient Greeks. Lacaille thought of Pyxis as separate from the Argo Navis. Herschel proposed Pyxis be formalized as part of a new constellation, Malus in 1844 to replace Lacaille’s Pyxis.

Had Argo Navis not been divided up, it would be the largest constellation in the night sky. Nowadays, Hydra claims that spot as the largest constellation.

The First Ship?

Going by Greek mythology and history, Eratosthenes said that Argo Navis represented the first-ever ocean ship built. Even the later Roman writer Manilius agreed with that idea. Those paying attention to the mythology are quick to point out that this distinction belongs to the myth or story of Danaus as building the first ship. Danaus is the father of the 50 Danaids and with the help of the goddess Athena, set sail to Argos from Libya.

Western Astronomy

The constellation known as Vela is one of three constellations that make up the Argo Navis and once one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Ptolemy describes the Argo Navis as sitting in the night sky between Canis Major and Centaurus. He goes on to describe asterisms for the “little shield,” the “steering-oar,” the “mast-holder,” and the “stern-ornament.” With the appearance of moving backward through the heavens, the Greek poet and historian Aratus calls the Argo Navis as “Argo by the Great Dog’s tail drawn,” referring to Canis Major. Today Vela is one of the 88 current or modern constellations. The Vela constellation is found in a region of the sky called “The Sea” with other water-based constellations of: Aquarius, Capricornus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, and Pisces.

As Argo Navis, Vela would appear along the southern horizon in the Mediterranean during winter and spring when the ship appears to be sailing along the Milky Way. Due to the equinox precessions over the millennia, Carina, Puppis, and Vela are no longer easily seen from the northern hemisphere. It is the 32nd largest constellation found in the night sky and is best seen during the month of March. Bordering constellations to Vela are Antlia, Carina, Centaurus, Puppis, and Pyxis.

Nowadays, only the stern of the Argo can be seen in the night sky. Cartographers have tried explaining this by saying that’s because the prow has vanished into a bank of mist or the other half has passed through the Clashing Rocks. Mythographers like Robert Graves say the missing prow is due to when Jason returned to Corinth and while sitting beneath the rotting ship, the prow fell off, killing the hero. That’s when Poseidon is to have placed the ship up in the heavens.

Chinese Astronomy

Dong’ou – Two to three stars from this constellation in the northern part of Vela bordering Antlia. This constellation represents a place along the Chinese coast where barbarians are said to live.

Ji – Five stars form this constellation that represents a temple to Hou Ji, the god of cereals. The name Ji refers to millet, the main crop of ancient China. Which five stars formed this constellation are uncertain though.

Qifu – This constellation represents a storehouse for musical instruments and consists of 32 stars, most of which are found in Centaurus before overlapping into Vela.

Tianji – This star represents an assessor who would decide if an animal were old enough for sacrifice. This star has been identified as being either Lambda Velorum or 12 Hydrae. The star 12 Hydrae seems more likely with Waichu, the kitchen located in Hydra where animals would be slaughtered.

Tianshe – The celestial altar. There is a Chinese fable where Tianshe represents the altar used to make offerings to the Earth god Julong. One version of this fable identifies the six stars of Gamma, b, Omicrons, Delta, Kappa and N. Velorum forming this constellation. Another version states that Tianshe is found fully in the Puppis constellation. According to Sun and Kistemaker, Tianshe forms a zigzagging pattern from Chi Carinae to Gamma Velmorum and then spreads into Puppis.

Stars Of Vela

It’s of note that neither Puppis or Vela have stars designated as Alpha or Beta as those stars are found within the Carina constellation.

Delta Velorum – Also known as Alsephina, from the Arabic word for “the ship.” It is also known as Koo Shee from the Chinese phrase for “bow and arrows.” It is the second brightest star in the Vela constellation.

Gamma Velorum – Also known as Regor, it is the brightest star in the Vela constellation. The other name is Suhail or Suhail al Muhlif from the Arabic phrase suhayl al-muhlif meaning “the glorious star of the oath.”

Lambda Velorum – Also known as Suhail in Arabic or Pinyin in Chinese. In Chinese, the name Pinyin means “judge for estimating the age of animals. It is the third brightest star in the Vela constellation.

Kappa Velorum – Also known as Markeb from the Arabic word Markab meaning “something to ride.” There is a similarly named star Markab or Alpha Pegasi. The two stars have slightly different spellings to distinguish them. Kappa Velorum is a binary star.

Phi Velorum – Also known as Tseen Ke in Chinese meaning “record of heaven” or “star chart.”

False Cross

This asterism is named as it is often mistaken for the Southern Cross constellation used in navigation. It comprises the stars Alsephina (Delta Velorum), Markeb (Kappa Velorum), Aspidiske (Iota Carinae), and Avior (Epsilon Carinae) from the Carina constellation.

Eight-Burst Nebula

Also NGC 3132, Caldwell 74 or Southern Ring Nebula, it is a bright planetary nebula that is only half a light year in diameter. It received the name Eight-Burst Nebula due to the figure 8 appearance seen in amateur telescopes.

The Gum Nebula

The Gum Nebula spans between the Puppis and Vela constellations. The nebula is named after the Australian astronomer, Colin Stanley Gum who discovered it in the 1950’s. The Gum Nebula is thought to be the remnants of a million-year-old supernova. Also within this nebula is the Vela Supernova Remnant, just as the name states, is the remains of a younger supernova that is thought to have gone nova about 11,000 to 12,300 years ago. This remnant overlaps with the Puppis Supernova Remnant found within the Puppis constellation. The Pencil Nebula is also part of the Vela Supernova Remnant. In 1998, another supernova was observed in the same area of the Vela remnant and called RX J0852.0-4622. Another object and point of interest are the Vela Pulsar where a series of radio waves have been detected.

Pencil Nebula

Or NGC 2736 is a nebula located close to the Vela Pulsar within the Vela Supernova Remnant. This nebula was discovered by the English astronomer John Herschel in 1835.

Heavenly Waters Family

The constellation of Vela belongs to the Heavenly Water Family. Other constellations included in this group are Carina, Columba, Delphinus, Equuleus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, Puppis, and Pyxis.

Velids

There are three meteor showers associated with the Vela constellation. These are the Delta Velids, the Gamma Velids, and the Puppid-Velids that occur between December 1st and December 15th.

Jason & The Argonauts – Part 3

The Dragon’s Teeth!

As the field was plowed, Jason sowed the dragon’s teeth from which an army of Spartoi rose up from the earth, fully armed and ready for battle. Jason took and threw a stone into the middle of the newly sprung up Spartoi. Just as expected, the Spartoi fought each other over who threw the stone. In some instances of this story’s retelling, Jason has the help of Medea, who uses salves, herbs, and charms to protect him from the spears and weapons of the Spartoi. As this new-sprung group of Spartoi rose and fought each other, the hero Jason slew and attacked many of them in order to fulfill his task

The Golden Promise Jason Was Fleeced

King Aeetes was furious that Jason had successfully completed the tasks. The next morning Jason asked for the Golden Fleece from Aeetes who responded that Jason and his men should stay awhile. After all, it wasn’t every day that such people of high esteem came to visit. Jason agreed to a longer stay and that night, Medea awoke him, warning Jason of her father’s wrath and to get his men ready to flee.

While the Argonauts ran to ready the ship for departure, Jason and Medea headed down to the grotto where the Golden Fleece was kept. There, a dragon, sacred to Ares guarded the fleece as it hung on a tree.

Knowing the dragon’s weakness and fondness for sweets, Medea had made some honeycakes that when dipped in a specific juice, put this dragon to sleep. Taking the honeycakes, Jason and Medea threw them towards the dragon who promptly ate them all and fell asleep shortly after. It was easy enough then for Jason to grab the golden fleece off the tree and for him and Medea to escape to the Argonaut.

Now the crew was home free to sail home to Pelias and present the Golden Fleece.

The Sirens

Not quite, while some accounts and retellings want to end the story here, there were still more obstacles for the Argonauts to overcome.

One such obstacle is that of the Sirens. These half-women, half-fish beings lived on the rocks and would sing beautiful, enchanting songs that any man who heard them would wreck their ships on the rocks trying to get to them if they didn’t jump overboard, drowning in the process.

It would be Orpheus’ time to shine as he pulls out his lyre and played his music much louder than the Sirens, drowning out their voices so that the crew could bypass the danger. One account has the Sirens changing into rocks.

However, one Argonaut, Boutes is mentioned as still being affected by the Sirens’ call and leaps overboard when the Argo started sailing further away. Lucky for Boutes, the goddess Aphrodite saves him and takes him to Cape Lilybaeum. Though other accounts will have the Argonauts hauling their companion back up to safety.

Scylla & Charybdis

There was still more trouble and danger to come when the Argo reached the Strait of Messina. Here, Scylla, a giant sea serpent with six long necks and heads would attack passing ships, seizing six sailors from them. Helping Scylla, was another sea monster, Charybdis who would suck in vast amounts of water, creating massive whirlpools.

Ships passing through this strait would frequently encounter one monster while trying to avoid the other one. Thanks to orders from Hera, the sea goddess Thetis and several sea nymphs or Nereids aided the Argonauts to lead them through these treacherous waters.

Homeward Bound, Marriage & A Storm

When the Argo arrived in Phaeacia, Jason and Medea were married. Continuing on, the Argo sailed past Peloponnesus. It is off the coast of Lybia that they were caught in a storm.

From out of the sea, a golden steer rose up, upon which rode three goddesses. Just who these goddesses were, isn’t mentioned, they told the Argonauts that if they wanted to escape the storm, they would need to listen to them. For a period of twelve days, the goddesses said, the Argonauts would need to carry their ship across Lybia.

Following those instructions, the heroes carried the ship. During this trek across the land, one of the crew was stung by a scorpion and died. Finally, they reached the sea and lowered the Argo back into the water. I would assume if Orpheus is still part of the crew, that his music made things easier.

Homecoming?

Now the Argonauts could finally complete their return home. When they arrived, Jason discovered that his uncle, King Pelias had put Jason’s entire family to death. Okay, so not all, just his male cousins as Pelias had thought to prevent the oracle’s prediction from coming true. Pelias was surprised to see Jason again, thinking that they would die on the journey.

Reunion With Aeson & Sweet Revenge

In the account I found in Bulfinch’s Mythology, Jason’s father Aeson is still alive and the two do enjoy a joyous reunion. Medea goes and brews a rather gruesome potion in a large cauldron that requires all of these animals and the lifeblood of a man. That done, Medea bids Aeson drink from what she has brewed to restore his youth and vitality.

Seeing Jason’s anguish over the death of his cousins, Medea took matters into her own hands. Medea approached Pelias’ daughters, telling them that she could rejuvenate their father just as she had done for Aeson. To prove she could do such, she again brewed her potion in the cauldron and show how she could restore a goat back to life as a young kid after killing it.

Pelias’s daughters were excited, the idea of their father youthful again. Medea instructed the daughters they would need to kill their father in order for this potion to work. Unbeknownst to the girls, Medea tricked them all into killing Pelias or in some versions, cutting him up into pieces only to find when placed into the cauldron, nothing happened.

The End Of A Long Epic

As we finally near the end of this epic, Medea flees in a snake-drawn chariot to escape the wrath of Pelias’ daughters. It also didn’t help that Jason had decided he loved another and married the Princess Creusa of Corinth.

Hell, hath no fury like a woman scorned and Medea calls upon the gods for vengeance. Medea sends a poisoned robe as a wedding gift to Creusa, then kills her own children and sets fire to the palace.

After all that, Medea rides her chariot back home to Colchis.

As for the ship, the Argo, it was dedicated to the sea god Poseidon where it would be placed up in the heavens. Sometimes Athena is who places the Argo up in the heavens.

Finis

Argo Navis – Carina for Part 1

Argo Navis – Puppis for Part 2

Andromeda

Andromeda

Etymology – “Ruler of Men”

Pronunciation: {an-drahm’-uh-duh}

As found in Greek legends, the story of Andromeda begins with King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, the rulers of ancient Aethiopia. Cassiopeia in her arrogance boasted how her daughter, Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids. This kind of attitude of extreme arrogance and pride, especially when a person claims to be better than the gods, creates what’s known as hubris.

Offended by Cassiopeia’s remarks, the Nereids approached Poseidon and complained, asking him to punish this mortal woman. Poseidon agreed and he sent a flood as well as the sea monster Cetus to destroy the coastline of Aethiopia.

After consulting with the oracle of Ammon, Cepheus was told that he would be able to end the destruction of his country by giving up his daughter Andromeda in sacrifice to Cetus. At the urging of his people, Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock by the sea to await her fate.

Luckily for innocent Andromeda, the hero Perseus was flying over head on his way home from his recent quest to slay the gorgon Medusa, when he spotted her. When Perseus learned of the situation, he waited at the rock with Andromeda until Cetus arrived to claim her. With the aid of Hades’ helmet of invisibility, Perseus stayed hidden and used Medusa’s Head to slay the sea monster when it came in close, turning it to stone.

The monster slain, Perseus then claimed his right to marry Andromeda. Given how he had rescued her, both Cepheus and Cassiopeia readily agreed to this as not only was their daughter saved but so was their kingdom.

The story doesn’t completely end there as it seems Andromeda had also been promised to her uncle Phineus to marry. This wouldn’t have been disputed or contested if Phineus had actually been the one to save Andromeda and slay Cetus himself. So Phineus picked a fight with Perseus about his right to marry Andromeda at the wedding.

After slaying a Gorgon and a Sea Monster, a mere mortal man is no challenge for Perseus who once again pulls out Medusa’s head and turns Phineus to stone. With that final problem solved, Andromeda accompanies Perseus back to his home Tiryns in Argos where they eventually founded the Perseid dynasty.

Some accounts give that Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons and two daughters. Others place this count a little differently saying it’s seven children all together, six sons and one daughter. Most accounts agree that the eldest son, Perses founded his own kingdom and becomes the ancestor to the kings of Persia.

Years later, when Andromeda dies, the goddess Athena places her in the heavens to become a constellation next to Perseus. Other constellations of Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Cetus also immortalize and commemorate this story.

Aethiopia or Ethiopia?

The accounts can vary and much of this owes to some lack of clarity among the ancient Greek Scholars and Historians. Homer is the first to have used the term Aethiopia in his Iliad and Odyssey. Greek historian Herodotus uses the name Aethiopia to describe all of the inhabited lands south of Egypt. The name also features in Greek mythology, where it is sometimes associated with a kingdom said to be seated at Joppa, (what would be modern day Tel-Aviv) or it is placed elsewhere in Asia Minor such as Lybia, Lydia, the Zagros Mountains and even India.

Modern day Ethopia is located on the horn of Africa and has some tentative ties to the legend of Andromeda. The Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived around 300 BCE called Egypt’s Kushite dynasty the “Aethiopian dynasty.” And with the translation of the Hebrew Bible or Torah into Greek around 200 BCE, the Hebrew usage of “Kush” and Kushite” became the Greek “Aethiopia” and “Aethiopians.” This again changes later to the modern English use of “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopians” with the arrival of the King James Bible.

Given the way that Countries, Empires, Kingdoms and Nations rise and fall, expand and shrink, it’s very well possible that both Aethiopia and Ethiopia are one and the same and that modern day Tel-Aviv once known as Joppa (Jaffa) may have once been part of Ethiopia. There is a lot of history that has been lost to the sands of time that can only be guessed at and speculated upon.

Western Astronomy

The constellation known as Andromeda is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. Arab astronomers were aware of Ptolemy’s constellations, but they included a second constellation representing a fish at Andromeda’s feet. An Arab constellation called “al-Hut,” the fish is composed of several stars in Andromeda and from several stars in Pisces.

The Andromeda constellation is found on the northern hemisphere where it can most likely be seen during autumn evenings, along with several other constellations named after characters in the myth of Perseus. Because of its northern location, Andromeda is only visible north of the 40° south latitude line and for observers farther south it lies below the horizon. It is one of the largest constellations found in the night sky.

In English, Andromeda is known as the “Lady in Chains” or “the Chained Woman.” It is known as Mulier Catenata in Latin and al-Mar’at al Musalsalah in Arabic. This constellation has also been called Persea, meaning “Perseus’s wife” or Cepheis, meaning “Cepheus’s daughter,” all names that relate this constellation back to its Greek legend of Perseus.

Chinese Astronomy

In traditional Chinese astronomy, nine stars from Andromeda along with seven stars from Pisces, form an elliptical constellation called Kui or “Legs.” This constellation is either represented as the foot of a walking person or a wild boar. The star called Gamma Andromedae and ten neighboring stars were called “Tianda jiangjun.” They represented a great general of the heavens and his ten subordinate officers. The ten stars in the north and center of Andromed formed Tianjiu, a stable from which horses were dispatched for riders. Lastly, other stars in the western part of Andromeda form a constellation known as Tengshe, a flying snake.

The name of the Andromeda constellation in modern Chinese is xiān nǚ zuò, meaning “the immortal woman/fairy constellation”. This constellation lies across two cardinal points or directions which are symbolized by the Black Tortoise of the North and the White Tiger of the West of Chinese astrology.

Hindu Mythology

Interestingly enough too, there is a very similar figure in ancient Sanskrit texts that depict an Antarmada chained to a rock, as in the Greek myth. Scholars believe that the Hindu and Greek astrological myths were closely linked; one piece of evidence cited is the similarity between the names “Antarmada” and “Andromeda”.

Mesopotamian Mythology

Many people are familiar with the story of Andromeda and her strong connection with Greek traditions. The story and constellation probably go back even further as there is also a similar female figure in Babylonian astronomy. The stars that make up the constellation of Pisces and the middle portion of Andromeda formed a constellation representing a fertility goddess, sometimes called Anunitum or the Lady of the Heavens.

Andromeda is also associated with the Mesopotamian creation story of Tiamat, the goddess of Chaos. She bore many demons for her husband, Apsu, but eventually decided to destroy them in a war that ended when Marduk killed her. He used her body to create the constellations as markers of time for humans.

Micronesian Mythology

In the Marshall Islands, the constellations of Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Triangulum, and Aries are all part of the same greater constellation representing a porpoise. Andromeda’s bright stars form the body of the porpoise; Cassiopeia represents it’s tail and Aries its head.

Polynesian Mythology

In the Tuamotu islands, Andromeda’s stars, Alpha Andromedae are called Takurua-tuki-hanga-ruki and Beta Andromedae was called Piringa-o-Tautu.

Perseus Family

The constellation of Andromeda, along with eight other constellations of: Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Cetus, Lacerta, Pegasus, Perseus, and Triangulum.

All of these constellations have some connection to the overall legend and myth of the Grecian hero Perseus.

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy, which naturally enough gets its name from the Andromeda Constellation, is also found here. The Persian astronomer, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi first wrote about the Andromeda Galaxy in his “Book of Fixed Stars” around 964. Star charts of this period labeled it as the Little Cloud. The first telescopic observations were done by German astronomer Simon Marius on December 15, 1612. And the first photographs were taken in 1887 by Isaac Roberts from his private observatory in Sussex, England.

The Andromeda Galaxy is approaching the Milky Way at a rate of about 100 to 140 kilometers per second. That is roughly 400 light-years every million years. At that rate, the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies are expected to collide in about 4.5 billion years. What’s likely to happen? No one knows for sure, though there is speculation among the Science-Minded that the two galaxies will merge together to form a giant elliptical galaxy. But not to worry, such collisions and merging of galaxies are fairly common in the universe.

Andromedids

Every November there is a meteor shower that has come to be known as the Andromedids due to where it appears to originate from, the Andromeda constellation. This is a weak meteor shower in that they are slow, averaging fewer than two meteors per hour. Observers of the Andromedids have noted meteors also coming in from other constellations. The last and biggest Andromedids meteor shower was in December of 2011. Astronomers have predicted based on this and past observed history, that there will be another outburst or large meteor showers in 2018, 2023 and 2036.