Look in western skies for stick man Perseus, a celestial hero

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Thursday, February 13, 2014 10:27am
  • Life

Look up in the high western sky early in the evening and with a moderate amount of imagination and fantasy you can see a sideways stick man.

It’s the constellation Perseus the Hero. Perseus is fairly distinct and has a great story.

Between 7 and 8 p.m. gaze toward the high western skies, a little below the overhead zenith. Between the bright constellation Cassiopeia (the giant sideways W) and the Pleiades, the bright star cluster that resembles a tiny little dipper, you’ll find the constellation Perseus.

The sideways stickman has his head just to the left near Cassiopeia and his feet to the right of the Pleiades.

The arm that hangs below the sideways stickman hero is fairly bright and straight, but his other arm pointing toward the zenith is much fainter and has a distinct fishhook appearance to it. That’s our hero Perseus.

Astronomically Perseus is a treasure chest of nice little star clusters because it lies in the plane of our disk-shaped Milky Way Galaxy.

A must see is the Perseus Double Cluster, easily seen with the naked eye in moderately dark skies. It looks like a pale white patch between the triangular head of our hero and the constellation Cassiopeia.

With even a small telescope or a good pair of binoculars you can easily catch the stunning beauty of the double cluster of relatively young stars more than 7,000 light-years away. In miles that’s over 40,600 trillion miles.

According to Greek and Roman mythology, Perseus was one of the many love children of Zeus, the king of the gods of Mount Olympus.

Perseus was half god-half mortal. He was said to be one of Zeus’ favorite offspring.

Zeus turned to Perseus to slay Medusa, the snake-headed monster that was terrorizing the countryside.

Zeus equipped his son with a pair of winged shoes from Hermes, the messenger of the gods. He also armed Perseus with a very sharp sword and a magic shield he borrowed from Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

With his winged shoes Perseus flew off after Medusa and using the shield and the razor sword he was able to lop off her head.

He then flew back to the Mount Olympus area with the severed snake head so it could be buried in a pit and covered with heavy boulders.

In the constellation we see in the high western sky Perseus is towing the head of Medusa.

Right about where the head of Medusa is in the constellation is a star called Algol, also known as “the demon star.”

Astronomically Algol is what’s known as an eclipsing binary star, a pair of stars that orbit each other in a three-day cycle.

Because of the stars rapidly circling each other and regularly eclipsing each other, it looks like the demon star is blinking at you … a reminder of the menacing Medusa.

Celestial hugging this week: The waning gibbous moon passes by the planet Mars and Saturn this week. Best seen in the low south to southwest sky in the early morning twilight sky.

Mike Lynch is a broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and the author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Email him at mikewlynch@comcast.net.

The Everett Astronomical Society website is: www.everettastro.org/.

More in Life

‘Found’: Author and climber a 20-year veteran of mountain rescue

In her second book, Bree Loewen shares her experiences of volunteering with Seattle Mountain Rescue.

Secret garden: Privacy trees that won’t outgrow a small space

These plants offer some height to block out unwanted sights without taking over your yard.

Stock your winter bookshelf with these animal and nature reads

Four new books cover outdoors topics from butterflies to wolves.

The Shed Players recently released their new album “Our Shingle Most Favorites.”
Listen here: Josh Clauson, The Shed Players release new CDs

This feature is all about Snohomish County’s homegrown talent: locals who make music and record it.

Newfangled cooker isn’t for those with tried and true methods

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley recently succumbed to peer pressure and purchased an Instant Pot.

Now is the time to assess your student’s back-to-school plan

Take a good look at how your kids are managing their new routine, class, teacher(s) and homework.

Author’s talk of birds and clouds kicks off Marysville series

1. Birds and clouds Marysville’s Outdoor Adventure Speakers Series is kicking into… Continue reading

How to shop in the street markets of France

It’s the best way to connect with the nation’s farmers and artisans.

Oprah Winfrey joins ‘60 Minutes’ for 50th anniversary year

The media giant debuts on tonight’s show, reporting on a story about America’s political divisions.

Most Read