|Boötes has one of the hardest constellation
names to pronounce; it should sound somewhat like bo-oat-tees, rather than
a quick "booties". It is one of the older constellations but it has
changed shape gradually over time before settling into the figure we use
now. Most of the mythology connected with this constellation belongs
to Arcturus, the brightest star in the Northern hemisphere of the sky.
Boötes apparently actually means "the ox driver" but because he is
following the celestial bears around the poles and Arcturus means "bear
herder" as well the two have become synonymous. In Greek mythology
Boötes was seen as Icarius, the first maker of wine. The story
goes that one day Icarius, who was naturally a kind man, gave shelter to
a stranger, who was the god Bacchus in disguise. Bacchus was delighted
with Icarius' hospitality and as a reward, Bacchus taught Icarius how to
make wine from the grapes he grew. The nearby constellation of Canes
Venatici the Hunting Dogs is commonly associated with Boötes as well.
An excerpt from Johan van
Keulen's Boeck zee-kaardt, 1709.
Boötes restrains his
hunting dogs from chasing
the Great Bear.
Arcturus, the Bear Herder, is an
orange K class star that is moving perpendicular to the galactic plane,
and rather swiftly too as demonstrated by its large proper motion.
It is actually traveling towards our solar system so in several thousand
years it will appear brighter still, but in 500,000 years it will have
moved far beyond us and will fade from naked eye visibility. Currently
it is about 33 light years away. It was the first star to be seen
through a telescope during daylight, in 1635. In 1933 light from
Arcturus was used to open the "Century of Progress" Exposition in Chicago.
The light was focused through a telescope onto a photo voltaic cell, which
then generated a current to activate a switch that would open the show
(sounds like a good school project!).
Boötis is also known as Nekkar. This is from the Arabic for
Bakkar, the Herdsman. It marks the head of Boötes nowadays.
Boötis is also known as Izar, the Girdle. It is a close binary
star of a brighter orange star and a smaller blue star. If you can
split them in a telescope you should be rewarded with a very pretty
sight. Mu (m)
Boötis is called Alkalurops the club or staff. Eta (h)
Boötis in labeled Muphrid, a shortened version of Al Mufrid al
Ramih, the Solitary Star of the Lancer.
Other than double stars there is little
of interest in Boötes. There are some globular clusters and
galaxies that can be reached in larger telescopes but for smaller scopes
the pickings are sparse. Lying far from the galactic plane this is
to be expected, so most of the interest in this constellation is historical.
There is a major northern hemisphere shower known as the Quadrantids that
radiate from a point within the northern boundary of Boötes in early
January. Quadrans Muralis the Mural Quadrant was a constellation
that was short lived and has since disappeared
This article is ©2001