Perseus – the hero

December 25, 2016

Astronomy

perseus_02The story behind the constellations of Perseus and those of his group is an ancient tale that is usually told from the perspective of the hero himself. It’s his patriarchal privilege.

There were two brothers, Acrisius and Proetus, who always quarreled with each other. Proetus became infatuated with his brother’s daughter, Danaë. The creepy uncle thing was bad enough but then Acrisius locked his daughter in a tower after hearing a prophecy that she would bear a son who would someday cause his death.

Meanwhile Zeus was also infatuated with Danaë. He stared at her through a little window in the top of the tower, you know, while she was sleeping, eating… doing personal stuff. Zeus was a big guy and couldn’t fit through the little window so he rained on Danaë with a “golden shower” which I think means just what it sounds like it means. Danaë came down with acute pregnancy because getting pissed on by a god will do that. She named the baby Perseus.

Acrisius assumed that his creepy brother must have gotten into the tower and done the bed-spring boogie with Danaë. So he put both mother and child inside a box and set it to float on the deep blue sea. That’s how they did things back then. It was like “Hey, I didn’t kill them. They were still alive last time I saw them, sailing away with the tide.”

To get to the good part, they get rescued by a fisherman, Perseus grows up to be a bit of a klutzy hero, saving people here and there, cutting off Medusa’s head, killing grandpa with a discus, and generally seeking the proper place for a demigod in this crazy world. He eventually gets a date with the beautiful Princess Andromeda and, as is often the case, it’s all good until he meets her mother.

gsp1_08Queen Cassiopeia spent all of her spare time bragging about her hotness (remembering younger days I take it). And as everyone knows, gods always call for the Kraken to be released in such cases. They were quick to release things back then. They probably released the Kraken for parking tickets back then.

So up comes Cetus the Kraken from the depths. Cetus was hated throughout the realm. He would typically show up drunk, trash his hotel suite and leave without paying, that sort of thing. The queen’s big plan was to distract him by sacrificing the life of her daughter Andromeda. Sacrificing daughters was how a lot of problems got resolved in olden times. Besides, the queen thought Andie was a bit of a skank for dating Perseus. As for Percy, he’s still a total klutz but he manages to show up in time and save the day thanks to his flying horse Pegasus, who is the real hero of the story. This tale is way too old for copyright laws so you can make the movie however you want. I’d leave out the mechanical owl.
perseusandmedusa
perAlgol is the big bright star right in the middle of Perseus and it has long been considered an unlucky star. Literally the name means “the ghoul” but a more precise translation is “the demon” so it is generally known as The Demon Star. The problem with Algol is that it is not constant and to the ancients the stars were supposed to be constant. After all, they are the firmament, the one sure thing, and a star that grows dim for ten hours every three days is clearly infirm.

Apparently changing brightness periodically is something demons do. It’s like the bastard is winking at us. Now days we are confident of a better reason for all the winking and blinking. Algol is actually three stars and when they get all eclipsey towards us there is less total surface area showing.

Another evil thing about Algol is that Perseus is holding it and we know he likes to pack around Medusa’s head in a bag to turn Krakens into stone and such. So Algol is often drawn as the severed head with snakes for hair and way too much mousse. In olden times some people would hide indoors when Algol was high in the sky. Maybe some still do, I don’t know. If so they’re missing out because that’s the best time to see other cool stuff up there, some of the best stuff actually, like the double cluster.

photo by B.P. SnowderThe double cluster in Perseus is awesome to behold in binoculars. It’s two star clusters for the price of one. To find it, first find the W shape of Cassiopeia, which is on the other side of the north star from the Big Dipper. Then look around the W for something that looks like a squid. That’s Perseus. About half-way between squid-boy and w-woman is the double cluster.

There is another star cluster in Perseus, M34, but it’s kind of wimpy and stupid. Don’t look at it. Then there is M76, a planetary nebula known as The Little Dumbbell. It’s not as cool as M27, the real Dumbbell, but at least it’s a dumbbell and better than M34.

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Carpe Noctem

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