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Some stars as seen from my backyard (photo Ashleigh Longtine)

Some stars as seen from my backyard (photo Ashleigh Longtine)

It was very clear one night last week, and so I decided to go outside and look at the stars.  No matter how many times I’ve seen them, looking up at the stars makes me feel like a child again—small, and full of awe and wonder.  We used to have a telescope that we would look through and see the planets, and sometimes, if we were lucky, galaxies.  I enjoyed those nights, and while I had no telescope last week, I decided to head outside anyway and just look up.

I went out around at around ten forty, shutting off all the lights around the house.  I had my heart set on finding the constellations that are currently visible in our night sky, and writing about them.  I even downloaded Stellarium to my laptop in the hopes that it would make finding the constellations easier.  But between Marysville to the west, Delaware to the east, and Columbus in the south, each lighting up the horizon with an ambient glow, it was difficult to see stars that weren’t as bright.  I was determined to not let that bother me, and kept trying to find the constellations when I realized that I had another problem.  I was familiar with the summer sky, and this was the autumn sky.  The constellations were all in different places.

Still determined to find something in the sky, I sought out the few constellations I knew.  I found Cassiopeia first, and then Ursa Major (the big dipper) and Ursa Minor (the little dipper).  I thought I saw Orion, but I wasn’t sure.


This was another good shot my sister got of the stars. (Photo Ashleigh Longtine)

The big dipper, the tail of Ursa Major, or the big bear, was always the easiest thing for me to find in the sky since I was a kid.  And as I looked up at it, I remembered the Greek mythology behind it that I learned a few semesters ago.  Her name is Callisto.  She used to be a human in goddess of the hunt Artemis’ fan club.  Artemis had set up a few rules about being a member of the club, and Zeus tricked Callisto into breaking one of those rules.  So Artemis turned Callisto into a bear.  Now Callisto had a son, Arcas, who grew to become a king and hunter.  He went hunting one day and saw a bear, and decided to kill it.

Now of course this happened to be his mother, Callisto, but he didn’t know any better.  Zeus, seeing the problem, couldn’t just let Arcas kill his mother, since it was his fault Callisto was a bear anyway.  So Zeus turned Arcas into a smaller bear—Ursa Minor—and put them both among the stars.

None of it is true, but it’s an interesting story.  And each constellation carries a different one, told years upon years ago.  For some reason, we remember stories for a long time.  They cross generational divides and become a sort of collective knowledge.  And here, the stars, infinite in size and number, are infinite in yet another dimension.  Within the constellations, stars hold the stories that we put there.

With school starting back up and the general pressures of life, I’ll confess, I’ve been pretty stressed out.  But looking out at the universe, the stars and planets, was calming.  It doesn’t get too chilly at night yet, so I’d suggest you go out and check out those stars sometime soon.  Maybe take the kids out and look for constellations, or make your own and put your own stories inside of them.


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