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Thursday, 13 May 2010

What’s Up for May? Constellation stories.

Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Before artificial lights were common, many cultures saw pictures in the way stars were arranged in the night sky.

The earliest star catalogs are over 6 thousand years old. But the stories and pictures are even older.

Cave paintings in southwest France show a great bull and dots which look like what we call the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.

These paintings go back over 15 thousand years.

In Australia many aboriginal groups see the dark nebula next to the Southern Cross constellation as the head of the great, flightless bird the emu. Hi s neck, body and legs are formed from dust lanes in the Milky Way.

Greek mythology tells of Orion the hunter. But other cultures have their own stories and starshapes.

In Australia, Orion appears upside-down.

The belt stars of Orion represent 3 brothers of the Kingfish clan in a traditional Australian tale. They were lifted to the sky for breaking the law.

The Ojibway and Cree First Nations of Manitoba, Canada, see this group of stars as Nanabush or Wesakaychak, who is known for his teaching and trickster abilities.

Here he appears as the shapeshifter Mistapew the giant.

Here he is pointing to the Hole in the Sky, the cluster we know as the Pleaides. His outstretched arm is represented by the star Aldebaran.

The Cree people call the Pleaides stars Mahtootisan Assiniuk, the Sweat Lodge Rocks.

The constellation Mahtootisan, the Sweat Lodge, is part of the legend of how Stonechild was instructed to build a domed sweat lodge over the sweat lodge rocks.

When heated, the spirits of the rocks are released.

The Milky Way is called the Summer Birds' Path by the Cree, because it traces the path of migratory birds.

The Cree see Niska the goose flying down the Summer Birds' Path.

Others see this constellation as Cygnus the swan.

Future generations will have a hard time seeing the constellations described in our legends because the lights of modern cities blot out the stars. So when you visit our parks and open spaces, look up!

If you are young, ask the elders in your family about stories they learned about the night sky. You just might uncover star tales and legends that otherwise would be lost.

You can see NASA's images of stars, planets, constellations and more at

And you can learn more about NASA missions at

That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

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