Hercules, the Constellation
is almost directly
overhead late in July at about 11 p.m. It lies between the easily
recognizable Corona Borealis and the equally familiar Lyra; find
it by looking about a third of the way from Vega toward Arcturus.
Except for its central geometric trapezoid, the full star pattern
is not easy to trace, although the constellation is one of the
oldest identified sky figures and, in earlier forms, was known
in Assyrian texts in 3000 BC.
In the land of the Euphrates,
these stars were looked upon as their Sun god, Izhbudar. Like
Hercules, Izhbudar was credited with unbelievable exploits, and
his position in the sky shows him as he slays the dragon, Draco.
In Babylonia it was Gilgamesh, also a mighty hero whose prowess
in battle against the monsters paralleled those of the later Hercules.
Likely the early myths gradually changed into the familiar twelve
labors of Hercules.
Hercules was the son of
Jupiter and the mortal Alcmene and so he was also a mortal, but
with semi-divine and superhuman strength. Juno, jealous of Jupiter's
many sons by mortal women, had made Hercules a slave to King Eurystheus.
First, Hercules strangled the Nemean lion. The spirit of the lion
was rescued by Jupiter and returned to the heavens as the constellation
Leo. The second task was to destroy the Hydra. his enormous reptile
had nine heads, the middle one immortal. If any of the other eight
was cut off, two more regenerated in its place. Hercules solved
this problem by burning the heads, except for the immortal one,
which he buried under a large rock, where it presumably still
lies dormant. Again, Jupiter transported the fallen beast to the
skies, and Hydra can be found to the south of the Lion.
Then, Hercules was ordered
to kill some horrid birds, the Stymphalides; he accomplished this
with the help of his benefactor, Minerva. In the sky, near Hercules,
can be found Aquila, the eagle, and Cygnus, the swanwhich
may represent the Stymphalian birdsas well as Sagitta, perhaps
the arrow Hercules used for this exploit.
To clean the Augean stables,
which housed 3000 oxen and had not been cleaned in thirty years,
Hercules diverted two rivers and managed the job in just one day.
Later, he fought the river-god Achelous and won the hand of the
beautiful maiden Deianira. The marriage was not happy, however,
and, thinking that Hercules had fallen in love with a servant
girl, Deianira bewitched him and caused his death. His mortal
body was transformed by Jupiter into the constellation, while
his soul joined the immortals on Mount Olympus.
None of approximately
30 naked-eye stars in Hercules is very bright, but in a dark sky
the four keystone stars form one of the most recognizable
early-summer asterisms. South of this star group is a splendid,
very red star, Ras Algethi (Alpha Herculis), an irregular variable
binary, one of the larghest stars we know about. The brightest
star in the constellation is Beta Herculis, Korneforos, the Club-bearer.
This is a magnitude 2.8 spectroscopic binary with a period of
410 days. Marfik (Marfak) is Kappa Herculis, a yellow and light
garnet double star that, with a number of other pretty double
stars in this region, makes Hercules an interesting constellation
for backyard astronomers during the summer months.
the western edge of the keystone the globular cluster
M13 in Hercules is one of the finest in the sky for northern hemisphere
observers. It is a fuzzy patch of light to the unaided eye but
gives evidence to its hundred thousand or more stars when observed
with a small telescope. The cluster was first pointed out by Edmund
Halley in 1714, and consequently is sometimes known as Halley's
Nebula, for it was at first thought to be a nebula. Messier listed
it as M13. For a truly magnificent view of this celestial object
be sure to arrange to see it through one of Chabot's telescopesphotographs
cannot show the true wonder of such a cluster since the concentration
of light at the center inevitably exceeds the contrast range that
the camera can record. Conrad Jung used a 10" telescope at
f/5.6 for this image of M13. Exposure was 30 minutes on hypered
Konica 400 film.
Another object of interest
is M92, a globular cluster, a bit smaller than M13, but worth
the hunt. From M13 go 6.5° east and 6.76° north to find