It’s the time of year for Hero Perseus’ annual rescue of Princess Andromeda, the damsel in the sort of distress only the ancients could have dreamed up.
It all started with Andromeda’s brash mother, Queen Cassiopeia, who lacked the good graces — and good sense — to keep her bragging under control. Always raving about her daughter’s beauty, she once went too far, claiming that Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs.
Big mistake! Neptune, the powerful god of seas swore revenge. He kidnapped Andromeda, chained her to a small island, and left her to be devoured by Cetus the Sea Monster.
Enters, Perseus the Hero. Hearing of Andromeda’s plight, he appealed for help from another of the gods, and was told to go to the cave of Medusa and cut off her head. Medusa, who had snakes rather than hair growing from her head, was so hideously and frightfully ugly that anyone who looked upon her was petrified with terror and turned into stone. All Perseus had to do was take Medusa’s head out to sea, show it to Cetus who would be turned to stone, and then rescue Andromeda.
Simple enough, yet there were a couple of problems. How could he cut off Medusa’s head if he dared not look at her, and how could he quickly get to the island where Andromeda was soon to become a sea monster’s snack.
More help from the gods. They gave him a shiny shield with which he could dimly, but not clearly, see Medusa enough to sever her head and put it in a sack. Then upon accomplishing that feat, from Medusa’s headless body emerged Pegasus, a flying horse.
So, as adeptly as my childhood cowboy hero Gene Autry mounted Champion every Saturday afternoon, our hero mounted Pegasus. With Medusa’s head stashed in the sack, he took to the skies and headed to sea, hoping he wasn’t too late to make his rescue.
He arrived just in time to find Cetus licking his chops as he approached the poor hapless Andromeda. Perseus uncovered Medusa’s hideous head — without looking at it, of course — and showed it to Cetus who shrieked in terror, turned to stone, and sank to the bottom of the sea. After tossing the head into the sea, Perseus steered Pegasus down to the island whereupon he freed the grateful Andromeda, and returned her to her home.
Perseus was so taken with Andromeda’s charm and beauty — all princesses are beautiful, right? — and she was so overcome by his bravery and good looks — all heroes are handsome, right? — that they married and lived happily ever after.
This Greek myth is played out each evening in the fall sky. See my Web site version of this column for a sky map showing the constellations of these characters.
* Dec. 10th, Thurs. morning: Saturn is to the upper left of the crescent Moon in the southeast.
* Dec. 11th, Fri. morning: The star Spica is to the lower left of the crescent Moon low in the southeast.
* Dec. 13th/14th, Sun./ Mon. all night: The Geminid meteor shower peaks with no Moon interference.
* Dec. 16th, Wed.: The Moon is new.
• Naked-eye Planets. (The Sun, Moon, and planets rise in the east and set in the west due to Earth’s west-to-east rotation on its axis.) Evening: Jupiter is the brightest object in the southwest; by mid-month Mercury emerges low in the west southwest at dusk. Morning: Saturn is mid way up in the southeast with Mars high in the south southwest; Venus rises at dawn 45 minutes before the Sun.
• Astro Milestones. Dec. 14 is the 463rd birthday of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) whose meticulous observations and records of Mars’ movement over several years enabled Johannes Kepler to discover elliptical orbits.
Stargazer appears every other week. Paul Derrick is an amateur astronomer who lives in Waco. Contact him at 918 N. 30th, Waco, 76707, (254) 753-6920 or email@example.com. See the Stargazer Web site at stargazerpaul.com.