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The Starlore Handbook: An Essential Guide to the Night Sky


Publisher:Chronicle Books



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About the book:

The Starlore Handbook is a handy introduction to the science of astronomy. Anyone wanting to look knowledgeably skyward and to know more about when, why and how humankind imposed patterns, names and legends on the stars above could usefully start here.

"The identification of stars in groups is found among all cultures at all stages of development" Cornelius writes. North American Indians, for instance, saw the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Its tail and rump incorporate the seven stars--called in India rishis (from a Sanskrit root meaning "bear")--that are generally known as the Plough or Dipper. Both Babylonians and Chinese identified a wagon or carriage, but for American Indians the three stars in the Plough's handle were a trio of hunters.

After a readable and helpfully illustrated introduction, Cornelius details--with charts and descriptions--88 major and minor constellations seasonally visible from northern and/or southern hemispheres. The twelve zodiacal constellations such as Libra (the Scales) and Pisces (the Fish) are fairly well known. But can you identify Cygnus (the Swan),or Carina (the Keel of the Ship?

Some of the stories are entrancing too. Take Lepus (the Hare). He's located at the foot of the giant hunter Orion, whose dog, Canis Major, lies immediately to the east, poised to leap preyward. Hares detest ravens, so legend has it that Lepus scurries to the safety of the earth as Corvus (the Crow) arises.

Cornelius's informative and entertaining book concludes with an account of the sun, moon and planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and, discovered more recently with modern telescopes, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. They "amble across the fixed star-fields over the course of days and months playing out their mythological associations in their physical properties and positions in the sky." --Susan Elkin

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