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On Earth, the deepest oceans and jungles have yet to be entirely explored, but modern advances have made leaps and bounds. However, above Earth, the expanse of space remains mostly unexplored. That being said, we have some incredible technology that allows us to see a great deal of space, even if it’s only a tiny percentage overall.
One interesting part of space is the constellation of Sagittarius. Several ancient civilizations have their own beliefs about this one. Let’s look at six interesting facts, myths, and FAQs about Sagittarius.
According to Greek mythology, the Sagittarius constellation represents Chiron, a centaur within the Greek pantheon. Commonly referred to as “the Archer” for the bow he held, Chiron was said to be the tutor of Hercules and Jason.
Aside from being an archer, Chiron was said to be a great healer, renowned oracle, astrologer, and revered as a teacher and tutor.
The story goes that Chiron was hit by a poisonous arrow but could not die, so he remained in pain. In order to die, he gave up his immortality. And exchanged places with Prometheus, who was in chains and being punished for taking fire to man. Because Chiron did this, Zeus rewarded his kindness by immortalizing him amongst the stars as the constellation we know today: Sagittarius.
The myth of Chiron largely stemmed from ancient Summerian mythology that described Sagittarius as a god of war and the hunt. These ancient myths depicted this god as a centaur creature with a bow and wings. These myths were then adopted by Greek astronomers but without wings.
Not all Greeks were convinced that Sagittarius was a centaur at all. One such man was Eratosthenes, a Greek geographer, astronomer, and mathematician. He disagreed with the commonly accepted myth about Sagittarius being Chiron. His reasoning was that centaurs didn’t use bows, so the constellation couldn’t be Chiron.
Instead, he suggested that it was a two-legged creature with the tail of a satyr. This led him to describe Sagittarius as Crotus, a nurse who served the nine Muses (daughters of Zeus).
Before the Greeks and their myths of Chiron and Crotus, the Babylonians described Sagittarius as one of their gods. Nergal was a centaur-like creature who was firing arrows from his bow. Unlike a centaur, which is half man and half horse, Nergal had two heads (one panther, one human) and a scorpion’s stinger instead of a tail.
Our Milky Way galaxy is home to many different constellations and other formations. Sagittarius is the largest constellation we’ve discovered in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s the 15th largest overall.
Sagittarius measures 867 square degrees. Because of its size, many of its stars are visible to the naked eye on a clear night.
While it’s commonly traced out as an archer, especially in regard to mythology, there are a couple of other viewpoints on what the constellation is.
When the brightest stars in Sagittarius (Delta, Phi, Zeta, Epsilon, Tau Sagittarii, Sigma, and Gamma-2) are traced out, it’s actually easier to see them as a milk ladle or teapot. However, look close enough and use your imagination, and you can see the centaur-like creature with a bow made from the stars, Epsilon, Lambda Sagittarii, and Delta.
Sagittarius points towards the center of the Milky Way galaxy. And within this constellation lies a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy called Sagittarius A-star, sometimes written as Sgr A.
Even though we cannot look directly at a black hole because no light can escape its warp, we can still observe the surrounding stars. This enables us to accurately determine the black hole’s size and age.
Finding Sagittarius depends on a few things. For example, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, July, August, and early September will be the two best months to see the constellation. And suppose you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. In that case, you should be able to see Sagittarius high in the northern portion of the sky almost anytime.
The specific coordinates to see Sagittarius are: RA 19h 0m 0s | Dec -25° 0′ 0″
It’s incredible to think that even though we can see many stars within the constellation with the naked eye, it’s massively far away. Sagittarius is 25,640 lightyears away. This means that you would need to travel 186,000 miles per second for over 25,000 years to reach the constellation.
While myths surrounding Sagittarius date back to the early Babylonian empire, the first record of this constellation being cataloged was in the 2nd century by a Greek astronomer named Ptolemy.
Many people are familiar with Zodiac signs based on the constellation. For example, Sagittarius is the sign for people born from November 22 to December 21. However, this is not science or astronomy. So, looking at the incredible facts and myths surrounding this massive constellation in our little corner of the universe is fun.
Featured Image Credit: Pike-28, Shutterstock
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Shea Cummings is a passionate content writer who believes that the power of words is immeasurable. He leverages years of experience in various trades such as carpentry, photography, and electrical to bring his articles to life. His goal is to provide his readers with information that delights and informs. When he's not writing you can find him spending time in the outdoors or playing some Minecraft on the Xbox with his wife and two sons.
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