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Orion has its owner version of fatal attraction

Constellation rides high in the wintertime sky.

Starwatch — Mike Lynch column sig
SW DIAGRAM FOR JAN 14-16, 2022.jpg
Orion the Hunter is visible all night during the winter.
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Last week 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. Many different cultures have their own story of this ancient constellation. My favorite tales evolves from Greek mythology and involves Artemis, the goddess of the moon. One word of warning: I've been known to add my own twists to these tales.

Orion was a hermit who lived alone on a remote island and 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 also had a secret admirer, Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Every night as she guided her magic moon chariot across the sky, she longed for Orion. However, leaping down and hanging out with Orion was risky business. It was taboo to mix with mortals. Zeus, her father and the king of the gods, would not approve.

One night she just couldn't take it anymore. She glided down from the moon chariot and met Orion face to face. It was love at first sight. Artemis hunted with Orion the rest of that night, but when dawn approached, she jumped back up to the moon chariot and raced it to the horizon. Night after night, she halted the moon in mid-sky and joined her new love for another night of hunting, jumping back on her chariot at dawn.

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Zeus eventually found out about his daughter's forbidden affair and had to end it. He put out "a hit" on Orion. He wanted the hunter killed as soon as possible, but he also 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. Thus killing his daughter's illicit love interest.

The next day the giant scorpion arrived. As Orion enjoyed his sweet dreams of Artimus 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, Orion 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 the hunter.

That night when Artemis descended 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 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 in 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.

As you gaze at the full moon and Orion next week, remember that poor Artemis is still grieving.

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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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