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The Upside Down Hero of the Late Summer Sky

It's hard to believe but summer is racing to a close. There's still plenty of summer in the evening sky as far as the constellations go. One of my favorites ones is Hercules the Hero. It's certainly not one of brightest constellations but I love the celestial heroes classic story. Hercules is supposed to outline the figure of a mighty hero in Greek mythology but to me looks more like a giant fancy handwritten capital ďHĒ (for Hercules) hanging diagonally in the high southwestern sky.

As soon as itís dark enough, after 8:30, starting look for a very bright star nearly overhead. Thatís the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Lyre. About 15 to 20 degrees to the lower right of Vega in the high southwestern sky, (or about two of your fist-widths at armís length) look for four moderately bright stars that form a trapezoid. You should be able to see it unless thereís really a lot of light pollution from where you're observing. That trapezoid is in the center of the Hercules right about where youíd join to two sides of the ďHĒ.

The most significant part of Hercules is on the upper right hand side of the trapezoid. Thatís where youíll find one of the great celestial treasures of the sky anytime of the year. It's a must see object with any size telescope, the amazing great Hercules cluster. You can even see it with the naked eye if your 're stargazing in the dark countryside. Look for a faint smudge but with a good pair of binoculars or even better, a telescope, youíll see a really gorgeous spherical cluster of very old stars, known as a globular cluster. This is the best one in our skies. Astronomers figure itís about 25,000 light years away, which equals about 145,000 trillion miles away. There may be up to a million stars crammed in area a little over 800 trillion miles wide. Through even a moderate telescope you can see some individual stars at the edge. As it is with all telescopic objects though, look at the cluster for extended periods of time through the eyepiece of your scope to let your eyes get use to the darkness of the field. At my stargazing programs this time of year it's one of the best treasures I love showing off to the folks through my larger scopes. The Hercules cluster is one of many globular clusters that form a halo around our Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers don't know exactly how they form but globular clusters are definitely part of our galaxies evolution.

In Greek Mythology, Hercules was a mighty muscle man. For the most of his life he also had a huge heart, except for brief an awful insane episode. Young Hercules, a teenager fell in love with the beautiful but conniving Princess Megara. They were foolishly married soon after they met and the honeymoon didnít last very long. Arguments quickly broke out. Hercules felt that there was nothing he could do to please Megara. She picked and picked at Hercules until he blew his stack and temporally lost his sanity. With his mighty hand he choked Princess Megara and all her attendants.

Immediately after the massacre , Hercules instantly came to his senses and realized the extent of horrible deeds. He was beyond sick with guilt and shame and turned himself in, leaving his fate up to Eurystheus, the King of Mycenae and Megara's father. The wise and extremely compassionate king was totally devastated with the loss of his daughter Megara but accepted that his son in law was truly sorry for his crime and temporary loss of his sanity. Nonetheless Hercules had to be punished so Eurystheus assigned Hercules to twelve incredibly difficult labors that he had to perform to atone for his crime. He would have been a lot happier breaking big rocks into little rocks!

One of his labors was to slay Leo the Lion, the king of kings of all beasts. Using all his strength and brains he slayed the monster lion and went on to complete all his other labors like taking on a nine headed snake and stealing cattle from a monster.

Zeus, the king of the gods and all his buddies on Mount Olympus rewarded him at the time of his death for all his great work by placing his body in the heaven as the constellation we see through the summer and early fall. They didnít want Hercules to receive full honors though because of his murder conviction, so they hung his body upside down in the heavens.

Diagram of Hercules ...Click here