Lore of the Constellations: Sagittarius the Archer

Welcome back to yet another edition of the Lore of the Constellations.  We are in the season of Summer and so far we have covered three constellations:  Aquila the Eagle, Lyra the Harp, and Cygnus the Swan.  Three constellations part of something called the Summer Triangle.  Now, if you’ve been following these videos you’re aware of how Aquila the Eagle was the pet of Zeus and each day was set up Prometheus to torment him for stealing fire.  Well, today we’re going to go over Sagittarius and how this constellation is connected in the ancient Greek myth with Aquila.

To begin, there are two competing myths associated with Sagittarius.  One identifies this constellation not as a centaur but as the satyr, Crotus.  A satyr is a half-man, half-goat.  Crotus was said to be the inventor of archery.  He would often go hunting and lived among the Muses whom requested that he be placed in the Sky, by Zeus, to demonstrate his skills in archery.  The arrow in this constellation points towards the scorpion constellation, Scorpius.  It is said that Sagittarius is protecting Orion who is about to be attacked by Scorpius.

In another story–though often associated with another constellation, Centaurus–Sagittarius represents a centaur, a mythological figure seen as half-man and half-horse.  In this myth, Sagittarius is represented by the centaur Chiron.

Most of the centaurs were regarded as bestial since they were, after all, half horse.  But Chiron was different.  He was renowned and well known for his kindness.  He was also a skilled archer, musician, and physician.

However, one day Chiron was accidentally shot by Hercules with an arrow that had been dipped in the poison of Hydra.  This inflicted great suffering upon Chiron—so great, in fact, that even though he was a talented physician; he was unable to cure himself.

Since Chiron was immortal he was unable to die, but his suffering continued.  Because of this, he offered himself up as a substitute for Prometheus.  Prometheus, as you remember for a previous video, had stolen fire for man and as punishment was chained to a rock and tormented by Zeus’s pet eagle, Aquila.

It was agreed that Prometheus would be replaced if a suitable replacement were found.  Chiron gave up his immortality and went to Tartarus in place of Prometheus.

In recognition of his goodness, he was placed into the sky to be immortalized.

You can find Sagittarius low on the southern horizon during summer.  His constellation resides on one side of the Milky Way while Scorpius the scorpion resides on the other.

Sagittarius the constellation appears at the center of our Milky Way, and the galaxy is at its densest point as it makes its way through Sagittarius.  This is why the black hole that is believed to be at the center of our galaxy is named Sagittarius A.

It might be hard to discern a pattern representing a centaur archer here in the sky but most people know of Sagittarius from its familiar “teapot” shape.  It was believed in ancient times that the steam rising from the teapot was what created the Milky Way streak through the sky.

Sagittarius is home to the bright blue hypergiant Pistol Star, one of the brightest stars discovered in the Milky Way. While it is bright, it is barely visible to the naked eye due to a great deal of interstellar dust that surrounds it. It is part of a dense region full of massive young stars known as Quintuplet Cluster near the center of the galaxy, roughly 25,000 light-years from the sun.

This region of space also contains several nebulae, including the Lagoon Nebula (M8 or NGC 6523), a large interstellar cloud about 50 by 110 light-years in dimension. The Omega Nebula (M17 or NGC 6618) and the Trifid Nebula (M20 or NGC 6514)… which are star nurseries birthing dozens of new stars.

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