Orion's Version of Fatal Attraction!
In last week's Starwatch, I told you about the astronomical wonders of
my favorite constellation Orion the Hunter, the big guy of the winter sky!
At nightfall he's waiting for you as he rises in the southeastern sky,
resembling a giant crooked bow tie or a tilted hourglass. His belt made up
of three bright stars in a perfect row really jump out at you. Orion the
Hunter is as rich with mythological tales as he is with astronomical
treasures. Many different cultures have their own story of this ancient
constellation. One of My favorite tales evolves from Greek mythology and
involves Artemis, the goddess of the moon. One word of warning here. I've
been known to add my own twists and turns to these tales.
Orion was a huge burly character who lived for hunting and fishing.
Like most of the critters and beasts he hunted, Orion was nocturnal.
He stalked and hunted by night and slept under a giant tree by day.
Orion was also a bit of a hermit who didn't like to mix with other
people or the local conservation enforcement officers, who took
exception with his nocturnal hunting practices. To avoid people and
law enforcement he moved to a large but deserted island where he
could hunt and fish unabated.
Orion was living his solitary dream! Every night he was out there
slaying beasts of all kinds. Unbeknownst to him, Orion also had a secret
admirer, Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Like a present-day spy
satellite, Artemis did aerial reconnaissance on Orion as she guided her
magic moon chariot across the sky, pulled by flying horses. The more
Artemis spied on Orion, the more she longed the mighty Hunter's
company. However, Leaping down and hanging out with Orion was
risky business. Not only would she be ignoring her duties as moon
goddess, but she would also be mixing with a mortal and that was
taboo! That would get her in a lot of trouble with her father Zeus, the
king of the gods.
So night after night she struggled, stranded in the sky with the
moon and her team of flying horses, denied the pleasure of Orion's
company. One night though she just couldn't take it anymore! As
Orion was cleaning up on a large herd of wild boars, she yelled whoa
to the horses and glided down to Orion's island. Finally, she met him
face to face. As she hoped it was love at first sight. Orion quickly gave
up on the hermit thing after one look at the goddess. Immediately she
changed out her royal robes and put on Hunter's camouflage. Artemis
hunted with Orion the rest of the night, but when dawn approached
she jumped back up to the moon chariot and raced it to the horizon.
The very next night, once again, she halted the moon in mid-sky and
joined her new love for another night of hunting, jumping back on her
chariot at dawn.
This taboo love affair went on for some time. Orion and Artemis
were very much in love but clearly Artemis was in the wrong!
Eventually, Zeus found out about his daughter's behavior from Apollo,
the god of the sun and Artemis' brother. What a snitch! Zeus had to
stop this affair, but he didn't want to lose the love of his daughter. So
the king of the gods came up with a plan. He had a hit put out on
Orion. He wanted the hunter killed as soon as possible but wanted it
to look like an accident. Zeus arranged for a giant scorpion to be
dropped on Orion's island and fatally sting the Hunter during his
daytime slumber, killing off his daughter's illicit love interest!
The next day the giant scorpion encounter arrived. As Orion
enjoyed his sweet dreams of Artemis and hunting, the scorpion
crawled into his camp. Orion bolted up as the scorpion attacked.
What followed was a battle that went on for hours and hours. As
evening set in the Hunter had the scorpion in a headlock and had just
about broken its neck. Down to his last gap, the scorpion managed to
break out of the hold and sting Orion's neck. In a few minutes it was
all over for our Hunter.
That night when Artemis descended down from her moon cart,
she made the grizzly discovery. Her boyfriend had met his match. She
looked around and saw the oversized and aggressive scorpion still in
Orion's camp. Artemis put two and two together and quickly took
action. As the killer scorpion made its retreat, the moon goddess
grabbed it by the tail and flung it so far into the sky that it magically
transformed into the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Artemis
then returned to the slain Orion and wept over him for hours and
hours. Finally, she cradled his body into her arms and flew his body off
to the sky. When she was high enough, she gently tossed her dead
boyfriend a little higher in the sky, magically transforming him into a
bright constellation. Artemis wanted her dearly departed partner with
her in the heavens.
She also ensured that Orion was on the opposite side of the sky
from the scorpion that assassinated him. That's why we never see the
constellations Orion and Scorpius in the sky at the same time. As soon
as Orion rises in the east, the scorpion sets in the west, and vice versa.
That's also why Orion is a winter constellation and Scorpius resides in
the summer evening sky. Remember as you gaze at the full moon and
Orion this week that poor Artemis is still grieving.
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast
meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author
of "Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations," published by
Adventure Publications and available at bookstores
and adventurepublications.net. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.