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A Modern Mythos for the Stars

Can you recognize the Quarterback, the Running Back, the Wide Receiver and the Linebacker?

As the sun sets, now after 5pm, the familiar figure or Orion straddles the east horizon. Named after the mighty Greek hunter of mythology, this figure bears an uncanny resemblance to a hero of our own modern mythos: the Quarterback. There he is, the Raven’s Joe Flacco, leaning back, his weight planted on his rear foot, his right arm cocked for a pass, his left arm extended against the onslaught of rushing defenders.
    Where Orion is trailed by two hounds, a pair of teammates stand behind the Quarterback. The constellation Canis Major, marked by the brightest of all stars, Sirius, becomes the powerful Running Back Ray Rice awaiting the hand-off. Beside him, the constellation Canis Minor, with its ­alpha star Procyon, is the Wide Receiver Jacoby Jones poised to sprint down the field for the pass.
    And don’t forget the defense. There, across from the quarterback, is the crouched Linebacker. Where our ancestors saw the figure of a great bull in the constellation Taurus, perhaps you’ll recognize the shape of future-Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis, crouched in a three-point stance and ready to pounce.
    Between the Quarterback and the Linebacker, the ball is in play in the form of Jupiter, the brightest object visible aside from the sun, moon and Venus.
    The Quarterback, or Orion, is the focus of the first of this year’s Globe At Night citizen-science programs, which runs thru the 12th. You’re asked to compare the number of stars you see in the constellation with those shown on the program’s star chart. Download charts and learn more at www.globeatnight.org. Last year’s program elicited nearly 17,000 reports from 92 countries and the data are used to study light- and air-pollution in the atmosphere.