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Stars in your eyes

diagram of consellation PerseusAlgol, the famous star in Perseus, is the white "star" in his right leg. What makes it so special is that it winks! This is because it is a bright star which has a dimmer star passing in front of it � giving the appearance of a winking star. This occurs every 2.87 days. Algol is said to represent Medusa�s eye.

Looking east from Crich at 10.00 p.m. on the 12th October 2009
The constellation Perseus with its �twinkling� star Algol.

The mythology of Perseus

Perseus was the son of Zeus and the mortal princess Danae. Perseus� grandfather, the king of Argos, was warned by an oracle that he would be killed by his grandson. Not wanting this to happen he locked his daughter Danae in an ivory tower to prevent her bearing a child. However, Zeus quite fancied Danae and, being a Greek God, was able to enter the tower disguised as a shower of gold. The result of his visit was the birth of Perseus. The king was not too happy over this. He locked Danae and Perseus in a wooden chest and threw it into the sea. The chest did not sink, but floated to the island of Seriphos, the kingdom of Polydectes. Perseus and his mother lived with the king in his palace, although Polydectes did have an ulterior motive � he fancied Danae and wanted to marry her. In the way of Greek myths he did not want Perseus to know of his intentions so he lied, pretending he wished to marry someone else. Perseus was very relieved that his mother appeared safe from the unwanted attentions of Polydectes and promised the king a magnificent wedding present � the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, whose gaze would turn men into stone.
In obtaining Medusa�s head Perseus had help from two Greek Gods, Athene and Hermes. Athene gave him a shield, to act as a mirror, so that he would not have to look at Medusa and be turned to stone. Hermes was particularly helpful in giving him a sickle to lop off the head, winged sandals so he could fly, a helmet that would make him invisible and a magic wallet in which to put the severed head. It would appear that Medusa was not very popular with these two gods.
Perseus came across Medusa asleep. By looking at her reflection in his shield he was able to slice off her head without being turned into stone. The head he placed in the magic wallet. Medusa�s two Gorgon sisters frantically looked for their sister�s killer, but the helmet worn by Perseus made him invisible and with the winged sandals, he made his escape.
On his way back to Seriphos, and king Polydectes, Perseus came across Andromeda who had been chained to a rock to be killed by a terrible sea monster. He quickly made a deal with her parents � for rescuing Andromeda he wanted to marry her. After killing the sea monster, and rescuing Andromeda, her parents changed their mind about the marriage. Not a wise decision. Perseus took the head of Medusa out of the magic wallet and turned them to stone.
Perseus, and wife Andromeda, returned to Seriphos. There he found his mother, Danae, had fled to a temple in order to avoid marrying Polydectes. Realising the king had been lying to him Perseus entered the palace, where a banquet was being held, and announced that he had brought the marriage gift as promised. He then showed them the Gorgon�s head, thereby turning the entire banquet party to stone. (The island of Seriphos contains a group of boulders which some still believe to be the petrified remains of the banquet.)
Some years later Perseus was at a funeral where it was customary to have games going on. During one of these games Perseus flung a discus which went astray, killing one of the spectators � the king of Argos, his grandfather � thus fulfilling the prophecy.
Thanks to our astronomer J. G.