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News for Norther Colorado and the world

Monday, September 22, 2014

Earth & Sky: Heavenly Chariot Flies in West at Nightfall

By Bruce McClure
EarthSky Communications

As darkness falls, there are several ways to distinguish the brilliant star Capella from the other bright stars in the western half of sky. Capella, the northernmost first-magnitude star, is the farthest bright star to your right as you’re facing west. Also, Capella looks yellow, like our sun. Moreover, Capella has a famous trio of starlets accompanying her, dubbed “The Kids.”

This beacon star, high up in the west at nightfall, plunges downward as evening deepens, and hovers close to your northwest horizon by midnight. Capella is the brightest luminary in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. In star lore, this pentagon-shaped figure portrays a mythological personage riding a chariot. In some versions, this is Poseidon — the god of the sea — driving the chariot. In other versions, it’s Erichthonius, the ancient king of Athens.

Talking about Athens, it was here that Poseidon and the goddess Athena quarreled for possession of the city. The other Olympian gods, fearing a destructive struggle, intervened. They decided to hold a contest, proclaiming the one who could give the better gift to humanity as the patron god or goddess of Athens. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, creating the horse. Athena struck the ground with her spear, and up sprung the olive tree.

The Olympians judged Athena the winner, so the city was named after her.

More from Earth & Sky online at www.EarthSky.org.

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