Friday, January 13, 2006

Zoo

These recent mornings Jupiter has been snuggling up to Zubenelgenubi in the predawn sky. Yeah, that's right. That little star right next to Jupiter is called Zubenelgenubi. It's one of a pair. The star about a fist's width (at arm's length) to the east of Jupiter is Zubeneschamali. No trouble finding Jupiter, by the way. It's blazing away there in the southeast before the sun comes up.

When sixty-something years ago my father taught me star names, I thought he was making up Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. Sounded like something out of a fairy tale. Rumplestiltskin. Abracadabra. But no, the names are real. They mean "Southern Claw" and "Northern Claw." They once were imagined to be the claws of the Scorpion. But then the Romans came along and chopped off the claws to make a new constellation, Libra, the Scales, the only non-zooey constellation in the zo(o)diac.

There are 8 1/2 non-human animals and 4 1/2 humans in the zodiac. Can you name them?

And by the way: The sun and planets spend more time in the constellation Ophiuchus than in the de-clawed Scorpio. The Romans should have left the Stinger alone and added the Snakehandler.