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Multiple myths about the moon as it rules the sky

From murder to love, the moon has been a source of stories throughout time.

SW PHOTO FOR AUGUST 5-7, 2022.jpg
The full moon with extreme level of detail is clearly visible with craters on the surface and peaks on the grazing angles.
Contributed / Parameter / Getty Images
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I must admit the full moon this month is aggravating. It coincides with the peak of one of the best annual meteor showers of the year. The moon is full on the very same night as the peak of the Perseids, Aug. 12-13.

Alas, them’s the breaks. To add insult to injury, a Supermoon next Friday night will dominate the sky. The slightly bigger and brighter than average full moon will bathe the entire sky with its light, making it tough to see all but the brightest meteors.

While there won’t be quite as many meteors visible, the silver lining is that early this week the moon will set before morning twilight, leaving some dark hours for Perseid viewing. The Perseid meteor shower is generated by the Earth's orbit plowing through a debris cloud left behind by Comet Swift Tuttle. Next year there will be much darker and friendlier skies for the Perseids.

Even though the full moon is getting in the way of the Perseids, I genuinely love summer full moons. They’re celestial treasures all by themselves. Cultures throughout the ages have celebrated the moon. This week I want to touch on some of the moon mythologies from around the world. There’s no way I could cover them all; there are too many. But at least I want to give you a small sampling of some of the moon lore. You can try to read this column by the light of the moon, although you might need a few more lumens than that.

The lunar mythology that’s probably best known is from the Greeks.

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Artemis was the goddess of the moon, whose job was to drive a flatbed cart across the sky every night pulled by magical flying horses. On the flatbed was the moon. Her twin brother Apollo was the god of the sun, who had the job of steering the sun with his flatbed and horses across the daytime sky. Their father was Zeus, king of the gods. There are many stories about Artemis, but one is how Artemis fell in love with the hermit hunter Orion. It was a definite no-no for gods and goddesses to fall in love with mortals.

Zeus found out about the affair and arranged for Orion to be killed by a giant scorpion. In similar Roman mythology, Artemis is known by her Roman name, Diana.

According to ancient Aztec mythology from the Valley of Mexico, Coyolxauhqui was the daughter of Coatlicue, the goddess of the Earth.

Coatlicue, according to lore, was also the mother of four hundred or so other gods and goddesses. It’s like the story of the old woman in her shoe with all her children, multiplied several times over. Anyway, Coatlicue, for reasons I don’t have time to go into right now, became heavily wrapped up in corruption, and all of her kids became very disgusted with her.

Coyolxauhqui was so incensed she encouraged her siblings to murder their own mom. They all signed on to this except for Huitzilopochtli, the goddess of the sun. She was well-armed and thwarted any attempt on her dear mother's life. When Coatlicue learned that Coyolxauhqui was the ringleader of the plots against her, she snuck up on her napping moon daughter one afternoon and cut off her head. She then flung her daughter's severed head high in the night sky, and it became the moon. Don’t mess with this mama.

There are many, many other moon tales, and in a few more moons, I’ll share some more with you. Happy moon bathing with some Perseids sprinkled in.

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The only downside is the full moon corresponds with the famous Perseids meteor shower.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications. Send questions to mikewlynch@comcast.net .

The Rochester Astronomy Club welcomes new members and puts on public star parties. Their website is rochesterskies.org .

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