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Volume 14, Issue 18 ~ May 4 - May 10, 2006

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Annual Fall of the Giant

Orion’s setting mirrors the changing seasons

The waxing moon shines bright through our evenings and early mornings, demonstrating the tilted axis of earth’s rotation with its diagonal path through the heavens. Although our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy and even the universe are moving, none of this motion affects the apparent shift of the sun, the moon, the planets and the zodiacal constellations along the ecliptic.

Compare this week’s southeast-to-northwest ecliptic to that of this past February or this coming August, which are more or less horizontal from our earthbound perspective. Come autumn, the ecliptic will again cut a diagonal path, this time from high in the northeast to low in the southwest, all a result of Earth’s 231⁄2-degree tilt as it orbits the sun.

Just as the path of the ecliptic changes with the seasons, so do the constellations, and as the winter months give way to spring, some depart and others appear. Each year at this time, as Scorpius rises into view in the east, its victim, Orion the hunter, descends until the following fall.

In mythology, Orion was not only a great hunter: he was the most beautiful mortal man ever to live and a giant so tall he could wade across any ocean with his head above water. He had two passions: hunting and women, and he excelled at both, and both led to his downfall.

In one adventure that parallels the seasons, Orion pursued a princess, but her father wanted nothing to do with Orion, and so drugged him into sleep and gouged out his eyes. Advised by an oracle, Orion traveled to the east to greet the rising sun, which restored his sight.

In his final adventure, Orion spurns the advances of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, so she creates a giant scorpion whose sting vanquishes the hunter.

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