- Wednesday, June 11, 2003
As we've seen in recent updates, the constellation Leo the Lion is still quite high in the skies in the early evenings of June. However, due to the Earth's constant motion, the sun continues to advance through the zodiac constellations. In early June, the sun is passing in front of the stars of Taurus the Bull. As a result, Leo is further to the west than last month, and a new set of stars is currently at their highest in the early evenings.
The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper is still high in the northern sky. If you look to the north, the Big Dipper is now somewhat to the left of the North Star after nightfall in the early evenings of June. For folks in Europe, Canada and the northern United States, the Big Dipper should be very high overhead about an hour after sunset. For folks in the southern United States, such as Florida and southern Texas, the Big Dipper ought to be quite high to the north, more than halfway from the horizon to the zenith, the point directly overhead.
The Big Dipper is probably the most famous constellation in the sky, at least for Northern Hemisphere observers. This star pattern is made up of seven fairly bright stars, four of which make up the "bowl" and three of which make up the "handle." We can use the Big Dipper to help us find the other constellations of the Spring Sky.
As we saw last month, the constellation Leo is found at a good distance "underneath" the bowl of the Big Dipper, that is, to the south. And the two outer stars of the "bowl" of the Big Dipper point toward the North Star, which is always in the same place above the northern horizon. We can find Leo in the other direction from the North Star, at a good distance "underneath" the bowl of the Dipper, that is, to the south.
The Big Dipper can help locate other stars. If you follow the curve of the handle of the Big Dipper, it leads in the general direction of the bright star "Arcturus" in the constellation "Bootes" the herdsman (pronounced "Bo-oo-teez"). This bright, orange-ish star is one of the brightest stars in the sky and therefore easy to spot. The star Arcturus can be seen high in the sky in the early evenings of June. Try to see if you can find this star from the handle of the Big Dipper.
The name "Arcturus" turns up twice in the book of Job in the King James Version of the Bible, for example:
"Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus and his sons?" - Job 38:32
However, it doesn't seem that this passage refers to the star known as Arcturus. According to my concordance, the Hebrew word translated as "Arcturus" means "group" or "crowd," and is identified with the constellation the Great Bear, also known as the Big Dipper. The New International Version renders this verse like this:
"Can you bring forth the constellations in their season or lead out the Bear with its cubs?"
In a footnote, the NIV says "the Bear" can also be read as "Leo." However, the scholars wish to read this verse, it seems that all readings of Job 38:32 make reference to the portion of the sky visible overhead in the early evenings this month.
In traditional western astronomy, the Greek word "Arktouros" means "bear watcher." The star commonly called Arcturus was mentioned by the Greek poet Aratus in his famous astronomical poem "Phenomena," written around 400 B.C.:
"Behind Helice, like to one that drives, is borne along Arctophylax whom men also call Bootes, since he seems to lay hand on the wain-like Bear. Very bright is he all: but beneath his belt wheels a star, bright beyond the others, Arcturus himself."
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