One of the best nighttime activities is star gazing.
Just laying in a big field and looking up to the vast dark sky and trying to find the constellations that you know are there.
The Boötes constellation is one of the easier ones to find as it is dominated by a kite shape from it’s brightest stars. This article will help those star-loving people understand the Boötes constellation, the myth behind it, the facts about it, and where it is located in the night sky.
Boötes is commonly referred to as a kite or ice cream cone shape making it relatively easy to find for amateur star gazers.
But let’s talk about the history behind the stars.
Boötes Constellation Facts, Myths, and Location (The Herdsman)
The Boötes Myth
Like many popular myths, that of Boötes comes from Greek mythology.
Boötes represents Arcas, a son of Zeus and Callisto. Arcas was raised by his grandfather King Lycaon.
King Lycaon decided that Zeus needed to be tested and tried to serve his son, Arcas, to Zeus as a meal.
Zeus saw through the charade immediately and turned the king into a wolf.
He also used his lightning bolts to strike the rest of the heirs to his throne before bringing Arcas back to life.
This may sound like a happy ending, but like all myths, there’s more.
Hera, Zeus’s wife, heard of his disloyalty to her through the procreation of Arcas and retaliated by turning Callisto into a bear, forced to roam the woods for the rest of her life.
When Arcas grew up, he hunted in the woods and, not recognizing his own mother, chased her down.
Callisto hid in a temple to avoid being killed by her own son, and to make sure they could both remain safe, Zeus put them in the sky as constellations.
Callisto is known as Ursa Major and Arcas as Boötes, destined to chase his mother through the sky for the rest of eternity, but never catch her.
His chasing is what keeps the sky in rotation.
The Stars of Boötes
Boötes is made up of 10 stars: Arcturus, Nekkar, Seginus, Izar, Muphrid, Alkalurops, Merga, Nadlat, Tau Boötes.
The most notable of the stars that make up Boötes is Arcturus.
Arcturus is the third brightest star in the entire night sky, and the first brightest in the northern hemisphere.
In Greek, Arcturus translates to “guardian of the bear” which is fitting given it’s location at the left foot of Boötes, guarding the Ursa Major constellation.
The other stars in Boötes are not as notable as Arcturus and are mostly known for their contribution to the creation of the Boötes constellation.
- Nekkar: yellow G-type giant most notable for it’s “pulsing behavior”. It has dramatic increases in brightness and luminosity for a few minutes at a time.
- Seginus: delta scuti star that shows a variation of brightness.
- Izar: binary star located 300 million light years away. It is also known as Pulcherrima and Mirak.
- Muphrid: spectroscopic binary star. It is also known as Saak and is closest to Arcturus in the night sky. Muphrid also contains significant excess of elements that are heavier than hydrogen.
- Alkalurops: the name comes from the greek word that means “shepard’s staff”. It is a triple star.
- Merga: has an apparent magnitude of 5.74 and the name comes from an arabic phrase that means “chained woman”.
- Nadlat: orange K-type giant that has a magnitude of 4.52 and is located 250 light years away.
- Tau Boötes: a binary star made up of two dwarf stars. The primary star has an extra solar planet in its orbit
Where is Boötes?
In exact terms Boötes is located in the third quadrant of the northern hemisphere. It is between latititudes +90 and -50.
For those who know what to know the absolute location, it has a declination between 0 and +60 and is 13-16 hours right of ascension on the celestial sphere.
For those who are just looking to find Boötes once and need locational references, it is part of the Ursa Major group of constellations.
The easiest way to find it is by following the arc that is created by the three stars in the handle of Ursa Major until you find the next brightest star. That is Arcturus.
Boötes is not specific to one location on the globe and can be seen from both the northern and southern hemisphere.
It is visible almost all year round starting out by the horizon in February and dipping below the horizon in September.
The highest peak in the route of Boötes is in May when you can look almost straight up and spot it right away.
Deep Sky Objects in Boötes
The Boötes constellation holds a few deep sky mysterious within its bounds despite it being in a relatively bare part of the night sky and facing away from our galaxy.
There is one bright globular cluster within Boötes as well as many faint galaxy.
However, thanks to the Boötes void, very little is known about these galaxies.
Boötes is also home to a few meteor showers, most notably the Quadrantid meteor shower.
Discovered in 1835, this is an annual meteor shower that happens in early January.
It is a relatively dim meteor shower and can be hard to spot if you don’t know what to look for and where.
The Boötes constellation comes from the Greek Myth of Arcas and Castillo.
Hera, being her usual self, was angered by Zeus’s disloyalty, and to keep his family safe Zeus put them into the sky.
Boötes is one of the easier constellations to spot because of its proximity to Ursa Major and its easy shape.
For amateur sky watchers, follow the arc that is created from the last three stars of Ursa Major and find the next brightest star in the sky.
This is Arcturus, the third brightest star in the whole sky and the most prominent star of Boötes.
From there make a kite or diamond shape and you have found The Herdsman.
Interesting in learning more? You might also like:
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- Facts about the Dorado Constellation
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