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Volume 15, Issue 7 ~ February 15 - February 21, 2007

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Heavenly Hero

Perseus flies high overhead astride his winged steed Pegasus

Saturday’s new moon makes for dark skies, allowing the constellations to shine all the brighter. Sunset, a few minutes past 5:45 this week, reveals the great hero Perseus directly overhead and his winged steed Pegasus high in the west.

Perseus was one of many children fathered by Zeus in his regular conquests of human maidens, in this case Danae a princess of Argo. As a young man, Perseus was sent to kill and retrieve the head of Medusa, a gorgon whose gaze turned all who saw it to stone. Armed with a helmet from the god Hades, a pair of wings from Hermes and a magical shield given by Athena, Perseus killed Medusa when he used the shield to reflect her own stare back at her.

In the night sky, the constellation Perseus has a triangular body with one leg planted forward. An arm overhead holds his sword, while the other holds Medusa’s severed head. If you look closely, you will see the gorgon wink. Algol, which in Arabic means head of the demon, is actually a pair of stars orbiting one another, and the white light of the two appears to dim and glow.

From Medusa’s spilt blood sprang Pegasus, whom Perseus mounted and flew into the sky.

Above the coast of what is now Ethiopia, the hero spied a beautiful maiden chained to the rocks below about to be eaten by a sea monster. Perseus held forth Medusa’s head, petrifying the creature where it stood and rescuing the princess Andromeda, whom he wed.

Pegasus returned to Mount Olympus, where he carried Zeus’ thunderbolts. Aurora, goddess of the dawn, used Pegasus, too, riding him through the sky, a fiery torch held aloft in her hand to drive away the night.

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