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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Look for the Ploughman in the Sky

Look for the Ploughman in the Sky

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the most noticeable constellations during late spring and early summer is Boötes, the Ploughman.

One of 48 constellations described by the First Century astronomer Ptolemy, and one of 88 recognized today, Boötes isn’t as well known as some of the other big name constellations. Even so, Boötes contains many objects of note, including the third brightest star in the night sky, Arcturus. Another component of Boötes is Tau Boötis, an extremely bright Sun-like star with a satellite planet. Other notable features include NGC 5466, a globular cluster discovered by William Herschel in 1784, several double stars that can be easily seen by inexperienced astronomers, and the Boötes void, a large, blank section of the universe where there are no known galaxies.

Boötes is popularly represented as a herdsman with a club or staff and either a plough or two leashed hunting dogs. Unlike some of the better-known constellations, though, no clear mythology is associated with Boötes. Here are a few of the many background stories attributed to him:

РBo̦tes was a ploughman who drove the oxen some see in the constellation Ursa Major. He and his oxen made the stars rotate in the sky.

РBo̦tes invented the plough. Because this pleased Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, she asked Zeus immortalize Bo̦tes in the heavens.

– Boötes was a grape grower named Icarius who learned the secret of wine-making from Dionysus, the god of wine. Icarius shared his new discovery with his friends, who drank too much and woke the next morning with terrible hangovers. Believing that Icarius had tried to poison them, his “friends” murdered him in his sleep. Dionysis honored Icarius with a place in the stars.

– Boötes was Arcas, the son of Zeus and the human woman Callisto. After Zeus’ wife, Hera, transformed Castillo into a she-bear out of jealousy, Zeus set her and their son into the heavens for their own protection. This action resulted in two constellations: Ursa Major and Boötes.

РSome say Bo̦tes is actually Atlas, the titan who carried the heavens on his back.

For more information about Ursa Major, check out our article on the Big Dipper.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.