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The Little Crown of Stars, or a Cereal Bowl?

There are big wonderful constellations like Orion the Hunter or Scorpius the Scorpion, but there are also diminutive but distinct constellations like Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Corona Borealis has been out all summer long and is now making it toward its curtain call in our evening sky for this year. By early November because of the Earth's orbit around the sun, Corona Borealis will already be below the western horizon as early evening commences. Currently it's still hanging in there in the evening west-northwestern sky and is fairly easy to find.

Corona Borealis is Latin for "The Northern Crown" and you can certainly make the case for how the Greeks and Romans saw it as a crown of shining jewels in the sky. To me it looks much more like a cereal bowl, even though it doesn't have all that much snap, crackle and pop. I love how the Australians refer to it as a boomerang. It's easy to see how the constellation got that name Down Under. In China it's known as a "cord" and according to the Shawnee Indian legend, these stars are the homes of maidens that occasionally danced in the fields on the earth.

Early in the evening look for the cereal bowl in the western sky just to the upper left of the constellation Bootes the Hunting Farmer. Bootes looks more like a giant kite than a hunter, with the bright star Arcturus at the tail. Arcturus is easy to find by using the Big Dipper's handle. Just extend the curve of the handle down to the lower left and you'll run right into Arcturus. It's extra easy because Arcturus is the brightest star in that part of the sky early this evening.
The brightest star in Corona Borealis is Alphecca, pronounced al-feck-ah, a hot bluish-white star about 75 light-years away. The light that we see from Alphecca tonight left that star in 1934 as America was slowly recovering from the great stock crash.

According to Greek mythology, Corona Borealis the Northern Crown is the crown of Ariadne. So who is Ariadne? The story goes like this.

Ariadne was the daughter of the evil king of Crete who, once a year, sacrificed seven young men and seven young women to the horrible monster the Minotaur. This beast had the body of a bull and an incredibly ugly human head. Certainly not the kind of thing you'd like to run into in a dark alley! Anyway, as the men and women were being led to their demise one year, Ariadne made eye contact with Theseus, one of the men being led to slaughter. There was instant electricity and poof, love at first sight. Ariadne secretly armed her brand new love with a sword. Moments later Theseus turned the Minotaur into Swiss cheese and as he ran from his conquest, Ariadne was waiting for him. The couple quickly dashed off in a boat and stopped overnight on the island of Naxos.

No one really knows what happened. Maybe Theseus got cold feet, or maybe it was Ariadne's snoring, but whatever the reason Theseus ditched Ariadne, leaving her sobbing uncontrollably on a beach at Naxos.

The island of Naxos was run by Bacchus, the god of wine, a great deity to know, especially around happy hour. The wine-sipping god fell in love with Ariadne, big-time. Instantly getting over Theseus, Ariadne immediately fell in love with the kindly wine god. This time for Ariadne it was a love that was to stick. Bacchus and Ariadne were eventually married, of course, with an open wine bar at the wedding reception! Bacchus gave his new bride a very extravagant gift. He took off his own crown and threw it into the air so high that it sprouted stars, symbolizing his everlasting love for the princess.
Ariadne has long since left us, but her crown shines on in the northwest sky tonight.

Diagram of Corona Borealis...Click here