By Mike Lynch
Corona Borealis, the Latin for Northern Crown, has always been one of my favorite constellations.
It’s small but very distinct, and as evening twilight ends it’s putting on a great show high in the southern sky.
The little crown of stars sits on the upper right of a much bigger constellation Bootes the Hunting Farmer, the constellation that actually looks like a giant celestial kite.
Arcturus, the brightest star we see in the summer sky, marks the tail of the kite. Even with just the naked eye Arcturus has a distinctive orange hue to it and is shining at us from about 215 trillion miles away.
With a little imagination Corona Borealis looks somewhat like a crown or tiara.The constellation reminds me of a little cereal bowl. In Australia it’s seen as a boomerang.
There isn’t much to be seen with a telescope of Corona Borealis. There are no prominent star clusters or nebulae or galaxies.
The brightest star in the Northern Crown is Alphecca (al-feck-ah), a hot bluish-white star about 75 light-years away.
Like a lot of stars Alphecca is an Arabic name that roughly translates to “broken,” referring to the fact that it’s the bright star in a broken or half ring of stars.
In Greek mythology Princess Ariadne, the daughter of the evil king of Crete, King Minos, who would sacrifice seven young men and seven young women to his pet Minotaur, an incredibly ugly beast that had the body of a bull with a human head.
During another sick ritual Minos forced about a dozen unarmed young men to take on his Minotaur in battle. and he forced his daughter to watch the annual slaughter.
Ariadne, in love with one of the young men, Theseus, secretly slipped him a sword.
Theseus’ killed the Minotaur and ran off with Ariadne. Sometime during the night, though, he ran off.
The princess was consoled by Bacchus, the god of wine, and eventually married him. At their wedding, Bacchus showed Ariadne just how much he loved her by taking off his crown and throwing it high into the night sky.
The North American Shawnee Indian legend that has this half ring of stars as the homes of maidens that occasionally dance in the fields on Earth.
During one of their terrestrial vacations a great Shawnee warrior named Algon stole the heart of the loveliest maiden who then ran off with him.
The other maidens were dismayed and sadly flew back to the heavens without their beloved sister. Over time the wayward maiden missed her sisters and rejoined them. She’s represented by Alphecca, the brightest star of the half ring.
With their joy at her return, the maidens brought Algon to the heavens where he became the bright star Arcturus. Now the great warrior could shine on with all of the lovely maidens!
Celestial hugging : Very early in the evening on Wednesday and Thursday in the low western sky, the new crescent moon will be up close and personal with the very bright planet Venus and the bright star Regulus.
On Wednesday the moon will be a little to the lower left of Venus. On Thursday the crescent moon will be just below and to the left of Regulus.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.