MAGPIES ACROSS THE MILKY WAY
Background: The story of the Weaving Princess and the Shepherd (or herdsman or farmer) can be found in both Chinese and japanese traditions. You will find a summary of the story, Magpies and the Milky Way, attached. Other versions of this story are found in Tom Birdseye, A Song of Stars (1990), Jeanne Lee's Legend of the Milky Way, a Reading Rainbow Book which tells the Chinese version of the legend, and Magpies Across the Milky Way, from the July/August 1993 issue of Odeyssey magazine.
Vega , the star represented by the Weaving Princess, is a prominent star in the constellation Lyra (the harp). Altair, the star represented by the Herdsman, is a prominent star in the constellation Aquila (the eagle). In the summer these two stars are separated by the Milky Way. Vega and Altair are part of an asterism -- a prominent group of stars, but not one of the 88 designated constellations -- called the Summer Triangle. The third star in the triangle is Deneb, located in the constellation Cygnas (the swan), or the Northern Cross. Another common asterism is the Big Dipper, seven prominent stars within the constellation Usra Major (the Great Bear).
Objectives: The students will learn about an Asian legend and festival, will practice an Asian artform, and will learn about three constellations, an asterism, and the Milky Way Galaxy.
origami paper (or squares of wrapping or bond paper), 5x5 in. or larger
oak tag or poster board
cglue, tape, and crayons or markers
origami bird pattern
, Weaving Princess and Herdsman patterns
1. Share one or more of the stories about the Milky Way and the magpies with the class. The Odyssey magazine article contains some information on the Japanese Tanabata festival, which is associated with the story of the Weaving Princess.
2. Mount the figures of the Weaving Princess and Shepherd on oak tag or thin poster board. Cut them out, fold and affix the stands with tape. Option: Decorate the figures with crayons or markers.
3. Show the students how to make origimi birds. A sample pattern is included at the bottom of this write-up; use any bird pattern of your choice. Make enough magpies to form a river between the figures of Tanabat and Hikoboshi.
4. The science portion of the lesson can center on constellations and asterisms; unfortunately, the stars in te story are best visible in summer. We have other activities which stress recognition of the star patterns; we will send these upon request. Options: An observing night with an amateur astronomer or a trip to a planetarium.
5. The science portion of the lesson can center on the Milky Way Galaxy and our own location in the universe. My Place in Space by Robin and Sally Hirst details our universal "address" from street, city, country, etc. through Solar System, Galaxy, Supercluster, and beyond, giving the students an expanding sense of "neighborhood" from the familiar to the universal. The "Intergalactic Invitation" activity in the Ranger Rick Nature Scope Astronomy book stresses the same theme.
6. Option: Compare other cultures' views of the Milky Way. There are several Native American variation in North American Indian Stories, Star Tales, by G. W. Mayo, 1990 and They Dance in the Sky, Native American Star Myths, by J. G. Monroe and R. A. Williamson, 1987.
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