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Stargazing quiz winner is…

November 23, 2009 at 01:26 PM


Before we talk about this week’s topic, Native American constellations, let’s announce the winner of our second LOOKING UP STAR CHART CONTEST. The quiz posed 10 general questions about astronomy or space travel and was published in the last three weekly editions of Looking Up. There were 17 entries, eight from Looking Up’s home county of Wayne County, Pa. The other nine were spread from across the country, from Connecticut to California. We had three from North Dakota and two from Michigan, and several from New Jersey and Illinois.

The winner, picked by random draw, is PETER NEBZYDOSKI of Pleasant Mount, Pa.!

Thank you to everyone who entered, and for reading Looking Up. Congratulations to the winner.

Lions’ share of meteors

Did anyone watch for the Leonid Meteor Shower that was described in last week’s column? The night of its peak was crystal clear, and cold, in Wayne County. I watched for an hour and saw four meteors. The first there were faint but the fourth was spectacular.

A brilliant meteor suddenly appeared above the constellation Orion, and shot across only a few degrees of sky before vanishing. It left behind a faint gray trail, which quickly disappeared. One more bit of cosmic rock vaporized as it hurtled through the Earth’s atmosphere, our blanket of air once again shielding us from being peppered. The meteor was brighter than any of the night sky’s stars.

Some colleagues at the newspaper reported seeing some as well, even more than I did! Hopefully you saw a lot.

Native constellations

Late November is also Thanksgiving time. While there are no constellations depicting the traditional Pilgrim story of 1620, we do have a constellation Indus the Indian. This faint star group is only visible in the southern hemisphere sky. Indus was one of 12 constellations created in the late 16th century by Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius. This was a time of great exploration, when uncharted regions of the southern night sky were being mapped and stars connected with imaginary lines for the European scientific world. Indus commemorated the Native American people that European explorers reported.

The 88 constellations we know today were officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union in 1930. Most originated in ancient Greek culture. There have been many other constellations imagined throughout the worlds’ cultures and through the ages. Making star pictures seems to be one of the common threads of humanity. Native Americans had their own constellations as well. Different tribes had differing stories and constellations. A few examples:

The Chinook in southwest Washington and the Wasco tribe in Oregon pictured two canoes in Orion - a big one using Orion’s belt stars and a small canoe using what we know as the sword.

The Shoshoni, in Idaho, imagined a grizzly bear among the stars of Cygnus the Swan and the Milky Way Band.

The Yakima, in central Washington state, saw a drying elk skin among the “W” shaped outline of Cassiopeia.

The Tewa tribe of New Mexico visualized Orion’s stars as their hero Long Sash, who led their people to freedom.

The Onondagas of New York pictured the Pleiades star cluster as a pretty band of dancing children.

Interestingly, the Big Dipper is among the stars if Ursa Major the Great Bear, of Greek mythology. Several East Coast North American tribes pictured the Big Dipper’s bowl stars as a bear, being chased by three birds - the stars of what we know as the Dipper’s “handle.”

First-quarter moon is Nov. 24.

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