Sagittarius Constellation

sagittarius constellation

   The constellation Sagittarius is commonly known as the teapot constellation because the arrangement of stars look like a teapot. It is one of the most significant constellations among all the zodiacs. Sagittarius is the 15th largest constellation and the and it occupies an area of 867 square degrees.

LOCATING SAGITTARIUS

   Sagittarius’ location is easy to find because the constellation lies at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It can be seen by the naked eye.

   It is located in the fourth quadrant of the southern hemisphere and can be seen at latitudes between +55° and -90°. Because this constellation is located low in the sky, it is best viewed where there is a clear southern horizon during the summer months. In the Northern hemisphere, the Sagittarius constellation appears during the early morning hours of the spring and vanishes from sight in the autumn. Sagittarius lies between the constellations Ophiuchus (to the west) and Capricorn (to the east). Other neighboring constellations are Aquila, Corona Australis, Indus, Microscopium, Scutum, Scorpio, Serpens Cauda and Telescopium.

NOTABLE STARS

   Sagittarius is the constellation that contains the greatest number of stars with known planets. It contains many bright stars.

   The constellation’s brightest stars — delta, epsilon, zeta, phi, lambda, gamma-2, sigma and tau Sagittarii — form a star pattern, or asterism, called the Teapot.

   Also referred to as Kaus Media (middle bow), Kaus Australis (southern bow) and Kaus Borealis (northern bow). delta, epsilon and lambda Sagittarii come together to form the archer’s bow.

   The brightest star in Sagittarius and the 36th brightest star in the sky, epsilon is 125 light years distant and 375 times brighter than the sun. Forming the top of the Teapot, lambda is 77 light years from the sun and an orange giant. The arrowhead is marked at the tip by gamma, an orange giant that is about 95 light years from Earth.

   Sigma is the second brightest star in Sagittarius. Making up the armpit, zeta, also known as Ascella, is the third brightest star in the constellation. It is a double star about 90 light years distant.

   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.

   Sagittarius is also home to some interesting objects. Most notable is a bright radio source called Sagittaris A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star). Scientists think that area of space may hold a black hole. That region of space also contains several nebulae, including the Lagoon Nebula, a large interstellar cloud about 50 by 110 light years in dimension. The Omega Nebula and the Trifid Nebula are star nurseries birthing dozens of new stars. The Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy was the first globular cluster ever discovered outside the Milky Way.

SAGITTARIUS CONSTELLATION MYTHOLOGY

   The Sagittarius myth is probably the most commonly misinterpreted of all of the constellation myths. Most interpretations conclude that the mythology of Sagittarius refers to the centaur Chiron, who was accidentally shot by Hercules, in Greek mythology, with a poison arrow. This story does indeed refer to a constellation myth, but it’s actually the myth behind the constellation Centaurus, not Sagittarius.

   The myth behind Sagittarius actually refers to Crotus, a satyr that lived on Mount Helicon. He was the son of the god Pan and the nymph Eupheme. Eupheme raised her son with the nine Muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. 

   Crotus was a satyr, a creature with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a goat. Much like Chiron, Crotus was a skilled musician and hunter. He even invented the bow, according to Greek mythology.  Although most satyrs were wild, uncultured and disrespectful, Crotus was gentle and became a great musician and hunter.

   He attained great fame for his diligence, for he was very swift in the woods, and clever in the arts. As a reward for his zeal the Muses asked Zeus to represent him in some star group, and Zeus did so. Since he wished to display all his skills in one body, he gave him horse flanks because he rode a great deal. He added arrows, since these would show both his keenness and his swiftness.

   It is easy to see why the myths behind Centaurus and Sagittarius often get confused. Crotus and Chiron share a lot in common. Both centaurs and satyrs were well known to be wild, rowdy, lustful creatures that had little respect for authority and proper manners. Crotus and Chiron were both exceptions to their races, being instead gifted in the arts and sciences and were knowledgeable and polite to humans. They both were known to hunt with a bow and arrow (though this is a bit misleading as centaurs did not traditionally use a bow and arrow. Satyrs did.) They also look a lot alike. They have the head and torso of a man, but the bottom half of a hoofed beast. Satyrs have two legs while centaurs have four.

   Why Chiron gets credit as the figure in Sagittarius mythology is a bit of a mystery. Most likely it comes from different cultural interpretations of the constellations. One could easily interpret the shape as that of a half-man/half-horse instead of a half-man/half-goat. It’s just a matter of which stars you think go with which other ones.

   Whether you think Sagittarius is based on Chiron or Crotus doesn’t really matter. Both creatures were very similar to one another and the general meaning of the Sagittarius myth remains the same, regardless of whether you think its representative had two legs or four. 

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