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Look for the Ploughman in the Sky

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Look for the Ploughman in the Sky

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the most noticeable constellations during late spring and early summer is Boötes, the Ploughman.

One of 48 constellations described by the First Century astronomer Ptolemy, and one of 88 recognized today, Boötes isn’t as well known as some of the other big name constellations. Even so, Boötes, contains many objects of note, including the third brightest star in the night sky, Arcturus.

Another component of Boötes, is Tau Boötis, an extremely bright Sun-like star with a satellite planet. Other notable features include NGC 5466, a globular cluster discovered by William Herschel in 1784, several double stars that can be easily seen by inexperienced astronomers, and the Boötes void, a large, blank section of the universe where there are no known galaxies.

Boötes is popularly represented as a herdsman with a club or staff and either a plough or two leashed hunting dogs. Unlike some of the better-known constellations, though, no clear mythology is associated with Boötes. Here are a few of the many background stories attributed to him:

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  • Boötes was a ploughman who drove the oxen some see in the constellation Ursa Major. He and his oxen made the stars rotate in the sky.
  • Boötes invented the plough. Because this pleased Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, she asked Zeus immortalize Boötess in the heavens.
  • Boötes was a grape grower named Icarius who learned the secret of wine-making from Dionysus, the god of wine. Icarius shared his new discovery with his friends, who drank too much and woke the next morning with terrible hangovers. Believing that Icarius had tried to poison them, his “friends” murdered him in his sleep. Dionysis honored Icarius with a place in the stars.
  • Boötes was Arcas, the son of Zeus and the human woman Callisto. After Zeus’ wife, Hera, transformed Castillo into a she-bear out of jealousy, Zeus set her and their son into the heavens for their own protection. This action resulted in two constellations: Ursa Major and Boötes
  • Some say Boötes is actually Atlas, the titan who carried the heavens on his back.


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