Aldebaran the Hunter

Today I was asked to write up a blog post about an African sky story I picked up from my visit to the South African Astronomical Observatory back in 2003. I like collecting new stories about the sky particularly those that aren't from the Greek/Roman tradition. It adds some variety and shows that it wasn't just the Greeks and Romans who looked up and made stories about the sky.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

For the African bushmen the star Aldebaran (in Taurus) was a hunter. He was married to the daughters of the sky god (the Seven Sisters/Pleiades). One day, Aldebaran's hungry wives demanded that he go out hunting and told him he better not return empty handed. Being a confident hunter he set out with his bow and his only arrow. It was a long hot day and he seemed to be out of luck. Eventually he spotted three zebras (the stars that make up Orion's belt) grazing in a line. He took out his bow and took aim at the middle zebra. Despite his confidence, his arrow overshot and landed on the far side of the zebras (making the sword of Orion). Just as he was going to retrieve his arrow for a second shot, he noticed that the zebras (and his arrow) were now being watched by a large, golden-haired lion (Betelgeuse). With the lion watching, Aldebaran was too afraid to get to his arrow. He was so ashamed that he hadn't managed to catch anything for dinner that he couldn't return home to his wives. He has remained out in the cold of the night sky ever since.

After telling this story I like to point out that the red giant star Betelgeuse will eventually explode as a supernova and fade from view. At that point the bushmen might update the story to say that the lion roared loudly and returned to its pride allowing Aldebaran to finally retrieve his arrow.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 14th Jun 2012 (23:30 BST) | Permalink
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