Introducing A New Constellation – Rana Veris The Frog Of Spring

A wood frog, a species common in northeastern Minnesota and often the first ones to call. They sound like quacking ducks. Click photo to hear them. Credit: Leah Perkowski-Sisk / NPS

I heard the first wood frogs chortling across the field last night and couldn’t help but make a stellar association. It was 10 o’clock and Arcturus flickered in the east in the same direction as the pond. Who hasn’t looked at the sky and connected the dots to make a personal constellation? It seemed right to make my own, but instead of using faint stars between the main figures  to create a new pattern – a ploy of 17th and 18th century mapmakers and astronomers – I co-opted a familiar constellation and gave it a new identity.

Rana Veris, a re-purposing of the ancient star group called Bootes the Herdsman. The green frog is a tree frog, another species native to Minnesota. Created with Stellarium. Photo: NFWS

Of course I know this is perfectly silly, but it struck me how Bootes the Herdsman could just as easily be re-visioned as a frog. And to keep everything on the up and up, a fitting name with ancient roots was required. That’s where Latin came in handy. “Frog” in the ancient Roman tongue is “rana” and “ver” or “veris” is spring. Put them together and you’ve got Rana Veris or the Frog of Spring. Notice how the frog’s legs splay out like the stars below Arcturus, and the shape of the head nearly matches the 3-star triangle at the constellation’s north end. Perfect.

I’m not expecting anyone to recognize this old-new constellation, but only to see my use of poetic license as another example of the pattern-seeking species we are. Hey, I’m only human. After all, that’s how the real constellations got there in the first place. They were probably used as an easy way to keep track of cultural stories and myths.

The constellation Gemini the Twins goes back at least to the Babylonians who knew the group as The Great Twins - a reference to Gilgamesh and Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh.

By 4000 B.C. many of present day constellations were already well-established among the Sumerians of the Middle East. They drew their outlines on vases and game pieces. In particular, sky watchers back were very familiar with the stars of the zodiac, the path traveled by the sun, moon and planets. The presence  of this important “heavenly highway” made these stars special. Scorpius, Leo, Taurus and Gemini – some of the oldest – go straight back to Sumeria.

The ancient Greeks recognized 48 constellations named for men, women and animals in their mythology but also borrowed from and shared by other civilizations in the Middle East. The first modern constellations were added in the late 16th century when European sailors explored the far reaches of the globe and saw southern hemisphere stars not visible from their homeland. Dutch navigators Pieter Dirksz Keyser and Frederick de Houtman constructed new constellations like Volans the Flying Fish and Tucana the Toucan to commemorate some of the amazing creatures discovered on their journeys.

Pity that Noctua the Owl never stuck. Hands down he's be the patron bird of amateur astronomers. Once upon a time located near the present-day Libra, this drawing comes from Jamieson's Celestial Atlas.

Astronomers and mapmakers created lots of constellations during this era of discovery to as late as the 19th century. Many didn’t survive. My two favorite obsolete groups are Bufo the Toad (no surprise, eh?) and Noctua the Owl. Bufo was invented in the 18th century by physician John Hill; English amateur astronomer Alexander Jamieson pictured the owl on his 1822 Celestial Atlas.

We ended up with 88 constellations and precisely defined borders courtesy of the International Astronomical Union in 1930. I suppose that means my frog doesn’t stand a chance in the grand scheme of things, but at least I can share him with  you.

12 Responses

  1. lissafaith

    Hi, Bob : )

    I’ve written you a couple short comments before, and thought I’d ask you a question, if it’s all right.

    A few years ago, my husband bought me a telescope because I’d always wanted one, and though I was thrilled to get it, for various reasons, I rarely took the opportunity to use it. I’ve only used it a couple of times, and I came across it in the back of a closet awhile back, and figured, since it’s still in great shape, as it’s been packed away, that it was time I try to use it again. (It’s one of those computerized ones, and honestly, it confused heck out of me the first couple times I tried it, and was intimidated by all the directions.) Now I am old(er) – : ) – and have this perfectly nice telescope, and I figure, I’d better “man up” and give it a try again, since I’ve always wanted to do more astro-and star searching, albeit of a very amateur nature.

    Anyhow, problem is, it’s a discontinued model – a Celestron NexStar 114GT – and I’ve looked online, contacted the company, and cannot find any working links to a manual. It came with a couple of helpful CDs but, alas – they do not work in my newer laptop. You are SO knowledgeable about anything involving space – hence the moniker “AstroBob” I would bet – so I thought I might ask you if you might have any clue where one might be able to find information of this sort, short of contacting the manufacturer, which I’ve already tried. I know the type is a starter telescope but, since I am a starter backyard astronomer – or want to be one – that would be perfect for me, and as I said, it was a generous gift that I’ve wanted since I was a child – which was maybe a billion years ago – and I can’t see why I don’t try to use this. Well, except for the fact that I don’t know how. : )

    Whew. I talk alot. Anyhow, if you might be able to give me any clues, I would be quite grateful, and if not, or you are sure I’m a bag of whack – well, I certainly get that, too. : ) Thank you much!

      1. lissafaith

        Well, for heaven’s sake (pardon the pun) – thank you, thank you! I’ve not been able to get a reply from Celestron, and you were the only one who knew where to point me! Thanks, and hopefully, I can make sense of it and get that observation. : ) Thanks again, sir. : )

  2. MBZ

    The RV’s name is Beauregard. El Bufo is the “toad” car. Yuck yuck.
    Returned to tell Lissa… don’t worry about the telescope just yet. it’s taken me almost a year of planisphere, charts, binocs and a chaise lounge just to get back up to speed on whats where. Start simple. Learn your way around.

    Great new posts Bob. Thanks a million.

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