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The Diminutive Delightful Dolphin

I hope you enjoy the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin as much as I do. It's said that good things come in small packages and Delphinus certainly helps prove that. It's the 19th smallest of all of the 88 constellations that can be seen from Earth. Constellations are defined as pictures made by stars in the sky and disappointingly, most constellations don't measure up to this definition. The little celestial dolphin is one of the pleasant exceptions.

Part of what makes Delphinus so easy to see and find is that it's a very simple constellation. All there is to Delphinus are four stars that make a little diamond which outlines the dolphin's body, and another star off one of the corners of the diamond that marks the dolphin's tail. That's all there is to it. The only challenging part is that the five stars that make up Delphinus are not that bright, but since they are in such a tight little group it's easy to spot, even in areas of anti-stargazing moderate light pollution.

In the early evening, as soon as it's dark enough, look for Delphinus in the high southern sky near the overhead zenith. It's almost directly above the southern horizon. It's considered a summer constellation and even though we're well into autumn. The western half of the sky is still dominated by summer constellations while the constellations of fall are hanging in the east.

A great tool for zeroing in on Delphinus is the use of the Summer Triangle, made up of three bright stars that are the brightest in their respective constellations. They're the three brightest stars you can see in the high western sky. The star at the bottom of the summer triangle as you look to the south is Altair, the brightest shiner in the constellation Aquila the Eagle. You don't have to bother with Aquila, but just gaze a touch to the right or east of Altair and there will be Delphinus navigating the heavenly sea. I guarantee when you spot it you'll fall in love with it.

As it is with most constellations, different cultures have different names and stories about the constellations they see and perceive. In fact, the same culture can have multiple stories about the same constellation so there really isn't such a thing as the correct constellation story. The history of Delphinus, though, has it pretty consistently referred to as a dolphin or porpoise. The earliest story of Delphinus being referred to as a dolphin comes from the Hindus of Southeast Asia. It's thought that the Greeks of ancient times "borrowed" that interpretation from the Hindus.

One of the early Greek stories about Delphinus was how HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poseidon" \o "Poseidon" Poseidon, the god of the sea, was riding around this tame dolphin he found to chase women. One of his conquests was the sea goddess Amphitrite. After winning her over, Poseidon rewarded his faithful dolphin by magically placing it up in the celestial sea.
The best Greek story involves Arion, who was a rock star of his time. He was out on concert tour winning the hearts of all who heard him and making a lot of money. He didn't have the best security, though, because after every concert he would just throw all the money from the gig in a big burlap sack and haul it with him. His lackadaisical system eventually got him in a lot of trouble.

He had just finished a concert in Sicily and hired a boat and crew to take him back to Corinth on the Greek mainland. It turned out he hired a bunch of pirates who were out for plunder. When the boat was well out to sea the crew cornered Arion and made him walk the plank and meet his death. Then the pirates would sail on to Corinth and claim that Arion accidentally fell overboard which gave them claim to the musician's loot. That sounds like a really fishy law, pardon the pun.

Anyway, there was Arion pleading for his life on the plank. No way were those pirates going to let Arion live, and the rock star realized there was nothing he could do but face his death with as much class as he could. He did persuade the crooked captain to let him play his harp and sing one more song. Arion gave it his all and it turned out to be one of his greatest performances, that relaxed his mind about his future or lack thereof. It's said that birds gathered from miles around to get a listen. Fish jumped out of the water with glee and dolphins surrounded the boat with their ears above the surface.

Arion sang for a long time, but eventually his voice gave out and he ended his song. He jumped into the ocean figuring this was it. But it wasn't it, because one of the dolphins hoisted Arion up on his back and sped him safely to Corinth on the mainland. The pirates had no idea where Arion and the dolphin swam off to, so they had a quite a surprise when they pulled into the port of Corinth and were met by Arion and the local authorities. A music loving hero dolphin had got them busted!

The gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, who were also fans of Arion, were so impressed by this dolphin that upon the swimming mammal's passing they placed his body in the stars as the constellation we see to this day..and night!

Diagram of the Delphinus...Click here