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Under The Martinborough Stars

August 7, 2020 August 2020 No Comments

When I was 10, my favourite movie was the Clash of The Titans; an extremely cheesy film about Perseus and his pet talking clockwork owl trying to save Princess Andromeda (spoiler alert) from an evil sea dragon.

Watching it now, it is pretty terrible, a cult classic perhaps. The story is based on a Greek classic legend that still can be found amongst the stars. Each character has a constellation named for them, the hero Perseus and Princess Andromeda, Cepheus and Cassiopeia who are the Princess’s parents and even the sea monster Cetus.

Pegasus the winged horse, which Perseus rides, is an easy one to spot in our evening skies in the coming months. It rises around 10pm in the North East in August, rising earlier as we head towards October. The huge square with four bright corner stars belongs to an enormous constellation that dominates the late Winter and early Spring skies. 

People of all cultures have been staring at the sky and making up stories about what they could see for many generations. Here, in Aotearoa/New Zealand we have some wonderful Māori star-lore that can be told through the stars. 

One of the most famous and easy to spot is Te Matau a Māui, the fish hook of Māui. In Western astronomy it is known as Scorpius, one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac that arch across the sky along the ecliptic.

Māui, with this fish hook, pulled up the North Island, Te Ika a Māui/ The Fish of Māui while the Waka/canoe he is standing in becomes the South Island. Bait was a drop of blood from his own nose, represented by Rehua/ Antares, at the centre of the hook.

As the hook moves down towards the Western horizon, it appears to pull Te Ika Roa/ the Milky Way down, so it lies parallel to the horizon in the Spring/ early Summer. When this occurs, it was a good sign that Summer was coming and so it was time to prepare for a voyage. 

When the Milky Way is along the horizon, its new name is Te Waka o Tamarēreti/ The Great canoe of Tamarēreti which symbolised a voyage.  Tautoru/ Orion’s belt (aka the bottom of the ‘Pot’) marks the stern while Te Matau a Māui/ Scorpius marks the prow.

I n Greek mythology, Scorpius is known as the creature that stopped Orion from his crazed hunting spree, by poisoning him in his leg. At this time of year, Scorpius is triumphant, the victor, so rides high in the sky. But like in all good stories, Orion is resurrected in Spring and squashes his enemy into the horizon and the creature disappears into the west.

Head out into Martinborough’s dark parks or hills and find these fantastic stories written into the stars for yourselves. But believe me, just avoid the movie versions. They are never any good. 

Becky Bateman runs Under The Stars, an award winning, nomadic stargazing service right here in the Wairarapa. 

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