Kid’s Astronomy: Bootes – The Ancient Herdsman

Hey, kids! Are you ready to spend another warm, northern summer evening out under the stars? Then perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself to the Celestial Farmer and his family. Before the Moon comes back and steals away our dark skies, begin when night falls and watch overhead for the appearance of a bright, orange-looking star. Congratulations! You’ve just found Arcturus and you’re on your way to learning our next constellation lesson. Now, sit back and listen to the voice of the wind and the night as it tells you a story…

Bootesurania“Some say that Bootes is the most ancient constellation in the sky, yet no one is quite sure where his legend came from. The set of stars that marks the ancient herdsman has played a role in many cultures and one of its first written histories belongs to “The Odyssey” – an epic poem by Homer written almost three hundred years ago. As a herdsman, he is accompanied by his working dogs, Asterion and Chara, who form the northern constellation of Canes Venatici. They are accompanied by the bright orange star called Arcturus, whose ancient name “Arktos” meant watcher of the bear. One legend says that egend says that Bootes was the son of Zeus and Callisto. Hera changed Callisto into a bear who was almost killed by Bootes when he was out hunting. Luckily, she was rescued by Zeus and he took her into the sky where she is now Ursa Major, the Great Bear.”

virgoAnother myth says Bootes was the son of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Supposedly he was placed among the stars for inventing the plow. It is also said that Bootes was a grandfather of Virgo, the goddess of the wheat or corn. Not far from the beautiful, bright, blue-white star that marks her crown is one of the most famous galaxies of all – the Sombrero. Perhaps it was Bootes who rescued the beautiful hair of Queen Berenices and placed it in the sky? After all, she gave up her long and lovely locks to see the safe return of her husband from war.”

hercules“The Romans called Bootes the Herdsman of the Septemtriones, that is, of the seven oxen represented by the seven stars of the Big Dipper, yet he is also associated with the constellation of Hercules, too. The ancient Greeks saw Hercules as a shepherd of great strength and a son to Bootes. He is most often pictured with a lion skin slung about his shoulders and holding an upraised club as he guards his flocks.”

We hope you had a wonderful time identifying these new constellations, but don’t go too far away… Because you’re about to learn some more!

Our awesome images are: Bootes map courtesy of Windows to the Universe, constellation chart courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries, Bootes Uranometria, Virgo Image by Johfra Bosschart and Hercules Uranometria. We thank you!