Stories in the Stars
Beirhope boasts some of the darkest skies in the UK and with no light pollution, the darkness brings a beauty like no other. Book a wild camping adventure here at Beirhope and experience for yourself the stories of the stars.
Vega & Altair
The story has it that the star Vega, 6th brightest in the sky, represents the daughter of a goddess and Altair represents a mortal cow herd. Vega came to earth and met Altair and they fell in love. Now heavenly people were not allowed to mix with mortals, so Vega’s mother dragged her back to the heavens. Altair tried to follow but Vega’s mother cut a huge river in the heavens to keep them apart. This is known as the Milky Way.
Vega now sits on one side of the Milky Way and Altair on the other. Taking pity on the couple, Vega’s father arranged that once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, all the Magpies in the world would fly up and form a bridge over the heavenly river so the couple could be together for one night. The seventh of July is known as Chinese Valentine’s day. Japanese culture follows a very similar story. It is said that if it rains on that day the Magpies hadn’t formed the bridge and Vega's tears fall as rain.
Orion was a great hunter. Whilst hunting on Crete with his then lover, Artemis, daughter of Gaia the Earth’s mother, he boasted he could hunt and kill all the creatures of the earth. Gaia told Apollo of this who was envious of Artemis’s love for Orion so planned to trick her.
Whilst Orion was swimming in the sea, Apollo convinced Artemis that Orion was actually a black beast and he challenged her to kill it. Of course, Artemis, a great archer, took up the challenge and shot the beast through the heart. When she found Orion’s body washed up on the beach she was distraught and placed him amongst the stars.
Another variation on this is Gaia sent a scorpion to kill Orion. The scorpion and Orion fought to the death, and both died. Zeus, so impressed with the bravery of both combatants, placed them in the sky as the contentions of Orion and Scorpio but in different parts so they can never be seen together.
In the sky Orion is hunting The Pleiades, the seven sisters, and Scorpio is hunting Orion. The three stars in a line through the centre of the constellation form Orion’s belt and what looks like three stars below the belt form Orions dagger. In fact, one of those stars is actually The Great Nebula of Orion, one of the most spectacular nebulae in the sky and an area of star birth.
In Orion’s Belt the famous Horsehead nebula can be found near the left-hand star of Alnitak. The three stars are, left to right, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Although they appear to be close together the centre star Alnilam is 600 light-
years farther away than the other two.
The stars which appear at the outer edges of Orion are Betelgeuse, upper left, Bellatrix, upper right, Rigel, lower right and Saiph, lower left. These stars, plus the belt and dagger, form the easily recognisable shape of Orion in the winter sky. This is known as an Asterism and is not the full constellation, only an easily identifiable part which indicates the position of the constellation.
Cassiopeia, The Ethiopian Queen, is a circumpolar constellation. In other words, it never sets, and like The Great Bear Ursa Major, it can be seen somewhere in the night sky at any time of year.
The asterism of Cassiopeia is the “W”. Her main stars form a flattened letter W and is easily found once you recognise it for the first time. Her brightest star is Shedar, followed by Navi. Several open star clusters can be observed within Cassiopeia. At her feet are the Heart and Soul Nebula. Spectacularly large glowing red emission nebulae, they are favourite amongst astrophotographers and observers alike.
Cassiopeia was the vainest of all queens. She often boasted of her beauty and said that she and her daughter Andromeda were more beautiful than the sea nymphs. This angered the sea god Poseidon, and he sent the sea monster Cetus to destroy the queen’s lands. To appease the monster, King Cepheus ordered Andromeda to be sacrificed to the monster and chained her to a sea rock. Perseus spotted Andromeda on the rock and rescued her from the Monster Cetus. As punishment, he placed Cassiopeia in the skies in such a position that she spends half the year upside down.
Andromeda is a large galaxy 2.5 million light-years from Earth containing over a trillion stars. It is visible with the naked eye, in dark sky areas, as a fuzzy blob in the constellation of Andromeda.