Myths of the Night Sky

Myths of the Night Sky

By Damian Fagan, Cricket Media

On a clear, moonless night, step outside and look up at the sky. People have been doing this for thousands of years. Early Greek and Roman astronomers charted the night sky. They discovered that stars follow certain paths as they move across the sky. With this knowledge, they used the stars for navigation and to keep track of the passage of the months. They searched the night sky to predict the weather or to decide when to plant or harvest crops. For them, the heavens were a place where gods and heroes lived.

These ancient sky-watchers linked groups of stars together like giant connect-the-dots pictures. The pictures they created were characters—gods, goddesses, and others— from their stories.

Today we call these pictures constellations. At different times of the year, different constellations are visible. Here are some ancient Greek myths about the characters in the constellations visible at different times of the year.

Winter Sky

Orion, the Great Hunter, was boastful. He said he could defeat any man or animal. The gods sent a small scorpion that stung and killed Orion. To honor his strength, he was placed in the heavens as a constellation. Orion’s belt consists of three evenly spaced, bright stars.

Orion faces Taurus, the Bull, which is made of a group of stars in a “V” shape. When Zeus fell in love with a young girl named Europa, her father forbade Zeus to be with his daughter. So Zeus changed himself into Taurus, a white bull, and visited the animal-loving Europa. She climbed on the back of Taurus, and he flew into the heavens, carrying Europa with him forever.

Summer Sky

To protect a beautiful woman named Callisto from the jealous queen of the gods, Zeus turned Callisto into a bear and placed her in the heavens. Today, Ursa Major, the Great Bear, wanders in the sky. (The Big Dipper is part of this constellation). Scorpius, the Scorpion, is also visible in summer. After killing Orion, Scorpius is never in the sky with him at the same time.

Autumn Sky

The Great Square of Pegasus, the Winged Horse, seems to fly across the sky. When Pegasus and the warrior Bellerophon tried to ride up into the heavens, the gods knocked Bellerophon off but kept the magical horse with them.

Different cultures see different images in the sky, but many use their knowledge of the stars to help plan their earthly activities. For example, the Masai people of East Africa see a group of seven stars as a herd of cattle. When this constellation is visible, the Masai know the rainy season will soon begin.

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Kids Magazine: Myths of the Night Sky
Myths of the Night Sky
Myths of the Night Sky
Kids Magazine
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