We are at the letter E in our April’s A-Z challenge, as we tour of heavenly bodies. “E” isn’t a popular letter to begin constellations, but there is one that is close to my heart even though it can’t always be fully seen in the northern hemisphere, especially where light pollution is a problem on the southern horizon. Today we’re considering the constellation Eridanus, or the River Eridanus. For those of us in the Northern Latitudes, the beginning of the constellation can be easily found as it begins near the star, Rigel, in Orion’s foot. From there it winds itself south, star after star, nearly 40 degrees south, ending up at the star Acamar. This star, whose name means the end of the river, was the brightest star from the southern skies that could be seen in ancient Greece. Later, as Europeans traveled further south, they noticed the line of stars continued on, ending at the star Achernar, nearly 60 degrees south.
Ancient cultures thrived by rivers and this constellation was often seen as a reflection of their river. Egyptians saw it as the Nile, different European groups as the Rhine and Rhone, the Spaniards as the Ebro, the Romans as the Po, the Indians as the Ganges, and the Chinese the Yellow River. With the northern stars near the foot of Orion, the upper part of the constellation was also seen at times as Orion’s footstool.
There is something about a river flowing off the horizon that draws my eyes, my imagination, and my heart.