insidethisissue - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Looking to a wider perspective across the continent, someother interpretations included an elk and three hunters (Salish,Pacific coast region), two grizzly bears and five wolf brothers(Spokane, western plateau region), men chasing rabbits intoa net (Northern Paiute, great basin region of western USA),seven geese that had been homeless boys (Chumash, southernCalifornia coast), coyote’s fishing net (Mariposa, southwesterndesert region), and a big canoe (Alabama, southeastern USA).Summary of some Similarities and Contrasts in theBig Dipper Sky lore MythologiesDifferent variations in the legends of the Big Dipper stargroup reflect regional variations in geography, climate andthe significant natural creatures relied on for sustenance.The most common theme in the legends noted above isthe annual bear hunt (or other major animal relied uponfor survival, whether caribou or elk) and this combinesthe annual cycle of death in winter and renewal of lifeprocesses in spring with some explanations for the colourof the robin, the reddening of maple leaves in autumn, andthe snow that eventually falls. The theme of the childrenfleeing from harm and escaping to the sky occurs in themythologies of various native peoples spanning differentlanguage families, and may have evolved as an instructionalexample of the harm that may come to children who straytoo far from acceptable customs. The mythologies of theBig Dipper group also include (to some extent) the ideasof journeys of humans to the sky, creation of the stars, andsome aspects of seasonal cycles.ReferencesBastion, D.E. and Mitchell, J.K. 2004, Handbook of NativeAmerican Mythology (ABC-CLIO, Inc.: Santa Barbara)Clark, E.E. 1960, Indian Legends of Canada (McClelland andStewart Inc.: Toronto)MacDonald, J. 1998, The Arctic Sky: Inuit astronomy, star lore,and legend (Nunavut Research Institute: Iqaluit)Miller, D.S. 1997, Stars of the First People (Pruett PublishingCompany: Boulder, CO)Monroe, J.G. and Williamson, R.A. 1987, They Dance in the Sky(Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston)Rockwell, D. 1991, Giving Voice to Bear: North American Indianmyths, rituals and images of the bear (Roberts RinehartPublishers: Lanham, MD)Virtual Museum of Canada, online at, C. and Duvall, D.C. 1995, Mythology of the BlackfootIndians (University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln)Frank Dempsey has been a member of the RASC Toronto Centrefor more than three decades and observes variable stars andeverything else in the sky. He is an Ojibway and member ofDokis First Nation, and uses cloudy nights for researching andcollecting constellation starlore.A Moment With…Dr. James Hesserby Phil Mozel, Toronto and Mississauga Centres ( 1609, Galileo turned a telescope heavenward for the firsttime and began the modern era of astronomy. He quicklywent on to observe and theorize about mountains andcraters on the Moon, the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter,the rings of Saturn, and so on. Next year marks the 400thanniversary of those first Earth-shattering observations anda wide variety of events and celebrations will be taking placearound the world. Leading the co-ordination of Canadianactivities is Dr. James Hesser.Born in the United States and now a Canadian, Dr. Hesser’sinterest in astronomy began at a very young age, with the starsarresting his attention as early as grade four. He found furtherinspiration in an excellent seventh grade science teacher, and itwasn’t long before Dr. Hesser was building his own telescopes.After studying at the University of Kansas and at Princeton, heleft the U.S. for nine years’ employment at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. For the past thirty years, hehas been working in Canada at the National Research Council’sDominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) in BritishColumbia and is currently its Director.As a sometime variable-star observer, I was interested tolearn of Dr. Hesser’s experience in tracking down a faint starthat varied in a period of not months, days, or even hours, butmere minutes: ZZ Ceti. According to theory, white dwarfs couldshow oscillations in brightness over a span of mere secondsif they pulsated radially. Dr. Hesser and his colleagues beganobservations at Princeton to see if they could confirm thispremise by making observations with then-new techniques.Dr. Hesser made observations at night and ran the PrincetonObservatory’s molecular spectroscopy lab during the day,April / Avril 2008JRASCBuilding for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009)61

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