Corona Borealis – the northern crown

September 3, 2017

Astronomy

Corona Borealis is a constellation whose name translates to Northern Crown. It is easy to find, just a semi-circle of bright stars high in the summer sky. It does look kind of like a tiara I suppose. It’s a bit of expensive jewelry that once belonged to Princess Ariadne of Crete. You may remember from your high school mythology class that she’s the one who helped Theseus put the beat down on the Minotaur.

Just as Theseus was about to enter the maze to fight the beast, Ariadne gave him a ball of twine to unwind so he could find his way back out. Then she was all “Oh, and you should probably take this sword.”

The storytellers are clear that she was only helping out because she thought Theseus was a big hunk of man-candy. It’s a fortunate thing he was good looking too, considering he was dumb enough to enter the maze without string and a sword.

By all accounts Theseus was a crappy boyfriend to Adriadne, sneaking out and sailing off while she was asleep and then never calling. She eventually married Dionysus, the god of wine, so there was probably a lot of heavy drinking and passing out during sex involved. But at least she always knew where he was at night. Anyway, the god Hephaestus made the fancy crown for her to wear to her wedding. Like all the really important mythical stories, stuff winds up getting flung into the sky where it turns into stars.

To the Arabs these stars were originally known as Alphecca, which means “the poor people’s bowl” because it looks like it is broken and poor people have to make do instead of buying new. The name Alphecca eventually wound up being given to the constellation’s brightest star.

The Cheyenne Indians and other tribes of that linguistic group call the constellation “The Camp Circle” because it looks like a bunch of tipis arranged around a campfire. To the Blackfoot tribe it is the Spider God, sitting on his web (Hercules) and watching over the land. Sometime he climbs down the summer Milky Way to visit the Earth.

Skidi Pawnee Star Map with Corona Borealis in the center.

In Australia, Corona Borealis is Woomera, the Boomerang.

To the Welsh the constellation is the castle of Lady Arianrhod. In her stories she seems nice at first but later she turns out to be a bitch.

To the Chinese it is Guansuo, a prison for poor people who failed to pay their parking tickets, or got caught attending political rallies, things like that.

The stars of Corona Borealis include a rather famous one known as “The Blaze Star.” It is a recurrent nova. Most of the time it is dim but on a couple of occasions it has flared up bright for awhile, once in 1866 and again in 1946. There is more than one possible explanation for such behavior in a star, but in this case we know there are actually two stars orbiting each other, a white dwarf and a red giant. The dwarf is pick-pocketing hydrogen from the giant. When it gets enough transferred over, BOOM. Judging by the amount of time between the last two blasts, it could happen again any day now.

Another weirdo in the constellation is The Fade-Out Star. It’s kind of the opposite of the Blaze Star. Every so often it fades and become very dim. The deal here is that it is producing lots of filthy carbon sooty crap that surrounds it and blocks the light. Then the pressure builds and blasts away the soot and the cycle starts over. I had a Chevy pickup like that once.

Carpe Noctem

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