Boötes the Herder
Abbreviation : Boo
Genitive case : Boötis
Brightest Star : a Boötis, Arcturus

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!). 

Beta (b) Boötis is also known as Nekkar.  This is from the Arabic for Al Bakkar, the Herdsman.  It marks the head of Boötes nowadays.  Epsilon (e) 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 Stargazers Astronomy

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