A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cats in Space: Constellations

Recently under the topic “Cats in Space,” we posted about nebulas named after cats (or, rather parts of cats). Today we’re tackling feline constellations. The first of these, Leo, you’ve certainly heard of, especially if you were born between July 22 and August 22. The other three you might only be aware of if you are really into stars.

The constellation Leo in the night sky
The constellation Leo. Note the "backwards question mark" formation
on the right.
Illustration by ad_hominem, via Adobe Stock.

Leo

Herakles and the Nemean Lion, Greek postage stamp
Herakles struggles with the Nemean Lion on this
Greek postage stamp.
Photo by Lefteris Papaulakis, via Adobe Stock.
Leo, the Lion, is one of the largest constellations, and also one of the most ancient. It was cataloged by the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (c. AD 100–170) in the second century, but its origins stretch back much farther than that. The Mesopotamians may have had a lion constellation way back in 4,000 BC. Other ancient peoples also had a lion constellation—notably the Persians, who called it Shir or Ser, and the Babylonians, who called it UR.GU.LA (“The Lion,” in case your Babylonian is rusty, and if you want to brush up even more, check out these posts on how to say "cat" in Old Babylonian and Neo-Babylonian). To the Babylonians, the Lion marked the summer solstice.
   

This constellation is commonly associated with two mythological beasts: the Nemean Lion and, somewhat less commonly, the Sphinx. The Nemean Lion was a fearsome lion that terrorized the Valley of Nemea in Greece. Its hide could not be penetrated by ordinary weapons, so ordinary men could not kill it. Heracles (whom you may know as Hercules) killed this lion as the first of his famous twelve labors. Thereafter, he wore its hide as a symbol. The Sphinx, of course, was a beast with a lion’s body and a human head. We associate the sphinx mostly with Egypt, but the creature was also known in Greek myth.

Leo is a constellation of the northern hemisphere. Its most prominent feature is the “backwards question mark” formed by the stars that outline the lion’s head. Its brightest star is Regulus, which is actually a four-star system.

You can learn a lot more about Leo, including how to find it in the sky, from this video:


Leo Minor

Sphinx sculpture in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
A sphinx in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The sphinx
is also sometimes associated with the constellation Leo.
 Photo by Юкатан [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Leo Minor, or the Smaller Lion, lies sort of in between Leo and another feline constellation, the Lynx. Unlike its larger cousin, Leo Minor is a younger constellation, created by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687. It was briefly renamed "the Lionness" in 1870, but this name never really caught on.

The brightest star in Leo Minor is Praecipua. Interestingly, Leo Minor includes three stars that are known to have exoplanets: HD 87883, HD 82886, and Kelt-3.

Lynx

The Lynx was also created by Johannes Hevelius (1611–1687), who wanted a little something to fill a gap between two other constellations. He called the star formation the Lynx because he said it was so faint, you’d need a lynx’s eyesight to find it. Lynxes were thought to have extraordinary, even magical eyesight. Greek folklore held that they could see through walls, and medieval Christians considered the lynx a symbol of Christ’s omniscience because of its keen sight. Though the Lynx constellation isn’t commonly associated with any myths, to some viewers it brings to mind an Argonaut (yes, as in “Jason and the Argonauts”) named Lynceus, whose eyesight was so good he could see through walls and even underground.

The constellation Lynx as depicted in an 1825 etching by Sidney Hall.
Though the Lynx is faint and difficult to find in the sky, it is near Leo Minor and Ursa Major.
Via Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Felis

Some constellations endure, and some don’t. Felis (the Cat) didn’t. It was created in the 18th century by Joseph Jerome Le Francais de Lalande (1732–1807). He liked cats, so he created a cat constellation for star charts of the time. You won’t find Felis on modern star charts though.

The other three feline constellations can still be found, so next time you gaze up at the night sky, be sure to look for the cats!

Sources


Mercatante, Anthony S., and James R. Dow. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, 2nd edition. New York: Facts on File: 2004.

Rao, Joe. “Find the Felines: Cats in the Night Sky.” Space.com. http://www.space.com/963-find-felines-cats-night-sky.html

6 comments:

  1. Perhaps Felis is a Cheshire cat & will reappear when its ready to.

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  2. My Mama has a TON of Leo in her chart....but...she is born on the cusp of Libra/Scorpio with Sagittarius rising........but at least Mom has SOME "cat" in her! Love, Cody catchatwithcarenandcody

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  3. Verrrrry interesting! Talk about something different! BTW I enjoy Leos! Courageous and fearless and usually the most popular kid on the block!

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  4. I'm a Leo!!! And so is my grandma! This is such an interesting post! --Mudpie

    ReplyDelete