Summer rising

If you look due south along the horizon around midnight tonight, it’s likely that in a clear sky you will see the stars of summer making their timely appearance. It marks the rising of the constellation known as Centaurus, which contains two of the top 10 brightest stars in the sky: Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri.

The constellation, one of the 48 star groupings identified by the second century astronomer Ptolemy, is portrayed as a centaur, the half-man and half-horse creature of Greek myth. As drawn, the centaur’s bow is poised, arrow pointed at the eye of Scorpio, holding at bay the deadly, fiery-eyed scorpion of summer that is following closely behind upon a sapphire throne.

The arrival of summer awakens forgotten memories, of honey suckle and roses, fresh clipped grass and soft, warm evening breezes, laden with the dust of the day’s sun, the serenading mocking bird and the steam of sweltering, misty air. Summer will stand to full command at that midnight moment, when this constellation breaks our horizon.

Early drawings depict the centaur as a likeable demi-god entertaining admirers with magic love songs, accompanied by the music of his flute, as he recites folklore. The centaur enshrined in the stars is thought to be Chiron, the oldest and wisest of the centaurs and a teacher of Achilles. Now he leads us into the wonders and songs of summer.