Sea creatures. Sorry, no sharks.

¡SkyCaramba! Weekly astronomy blog for the week ending August 17, 2013

There are a few sea creatures represented in our modern list of constellations. Sorry, shark fans, there aren’t any sharks. Or are there? Sea monster could refer to many things.

Cetus is the sea monster of ancient Greek legends. In modern drawings of what’s in the sky, it’s usually shown as a whale. According to the old stories, this monster was killed by Perseus as he rescued Andromeda in one of the oldest known damsel-in-distress tales. Andromeda had been chained by the seaside as a sacrifice to the monster to keep him from destroying a whole country.

Pisces is the Latin plural for fish. They are the fish that Venus and Cupid turned themselves into when pursued by a monster named Typhon in Roman stories. As Typhon lost track of them, they didn’t want to lose track of each other. So they tied themselves together with a rope.

Capricornus is also said to have fled from Typhon. He couldn’t decide whether to turn himself into a fish or a goat. And so he became half-fish and half-goat.

An Egyptian story has another explanation for how Pisces and a third fish got into the sky. Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, is also called the Great Fish. It swallows the water poured by Aquarius. He helped the goddess Isis out of a life-threatening jam. She rewarded him by making a place for him and his offspring in the heavens. The other two fish of Pisces are his offspring.

Hydra is a water snake. It didn’t do anything heroic or menacing to earn a place on the celestial dome where it could never directly bother people again. Rather, it’s a victim of circumstances. Corvus, a crow that used to have a beautiful singing voice and lovely white feathers, got distracted from his duty to fetch water for Apollo. When he finally returned, Corvus claimed Hydra kept him from filling Apollo’s bowl at the spring. Apollo knew better and turned Corvus into a black screeching bird and put him, Hydra, and the bowl among the stars.

Don’t confuse Hydra with Hydrus, a more recently contrived constellation. Created in the 16th Century, Hydrus is the male companion to the female Hydra. He has to swim through the river Eridanus to get to her.

If you were to travel the skies in pursuit of sea creatures, sharks and otherwise, you may want to do so from the safety of a good sturdy ship. Argo Navis was once just one constellation. But it is now depicted in pieces. Carina, Puppis, and Vela represent the ship’s keel, poop-deck, and sail, respectively.

Here are some links to help you find the sea creatures described above. ¡SkyCaramba!