Jimmy Westlake's Celestial News column appears Tuesdays in the Steamboat Today.
Find more columns by Westlake here.
Winging his way across our late springtime sky is a delightful little constellation named Corvus the Crow. The four main stars of Corvus form a distinctive kite-shaped pattern located about one-third of the way up in the southwestern sky at 9:30 p.m. in mid-June.
Perhaps the easiest way to find Corvus is to use the old adage: "Follow the arc to Arcturus, spike on to Spica, and continue to Corvus." The seven stars of the Big Dipper are easy to spot high overhead. Just follow the curve, or arc, of the Big Dipper's handle around to the bright orange star Arcturus, then keep going until you arrive at the bright blue star Spica, and continue on until you spot the kite-shaped pattern of Corvus.
At the upper-right and lower-left corners of the kite are the stars Gienah and Kraz, marking the wing tips of the Crow. Minkar, the star at the lower right, marks the Crow's head, and the fainter star just below Minkar is Alchiba, the Crow's beak. Algorab, at the top left, completes the pattern as the Crow's tail.
Corvus is pictured in the sky as trying to steal a sip of water from Crater the Cup, his neighboring constellation to the west. Crater's stars are fainter than those of Corvus, but the goblet-shaped pattern is unmistakable. A star named Alkes marks part of the cup's base. Both of these constellations are precariously balanced on the back of Hydra the Water Snake.
There's a single Greek legend that links all three of these star patterns. Corvus represents the beloved pet bird of Apollo, the sun god. Apollo's day job was to drive the fiery chariot of the sun across the sky. One hot summer day, Apollo grew very thirsty and sent his beautiful white bird Corvus to fetch a drink of water from a nearby well. The bird flew off with the best of intentions, carrying Apollo's cup in his claws, but along the way to the well, Corvus became distracted by a fig tree and stopped to eat his fill of the sweet fruit. Realizing that he had tarried too long, Corvus devised an alibi. He picked up a scrawny little water snake in his beak, and flew back to Apollo with an empty cup, explaining that the water snake had prevented him from reaching the well. Apollo was furious at this feeble lie and cursed the bird so severely that his white feathers turned jet black. He then threw all three, the Crow, the Cup and the Water Snake, into the sky and changed them into stars. There, Corvus the Crow suffers eternal thirst as Hydra the Water Snake, prevents him from drinking any water from the Crater the Cup.