Looking up at stars makes me feel like I’m part of the universe – something vast and important. Energy x infinity. (not to make fun of all those who make them feel insignificant when they  gaze at the sky – but really, that makes you feel small? How? Connect to the stars, man)

Trillions of stars. There is this one that made me crazy when I was a kid. I’d lie on my own private grassy knoll and look up and there was this red star. But was it a planet – like Mars? See crazy-making. So I found this book at school. It was a dusty and old – but there it was on page 22: Betelgeuse. Betalgeuse they said was in the armpit of Orion. Armpit? Armpit? No WAY! This red mystery star is ancient dude’s  armpit? And it’s one of largest stars in our galaxy – about 160 million times the volume of our sun –600 million light years away – and it is an armpit star?

By Anirban Nandi (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Anirban Nandi (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh yeah, its size and brightness makes it easy to find and remember.  Look for Orion the constellation.  And on a clear night, if it’s dark enough and you have good eyes, you can also see that it has a reddish colour, which is why I used to think it was a planet. If you watch it over time, you’ll see that it varies a lot in brightness.

I thought there has to be something better than being a star in an armpit – so I found out more.  Some our cousins in Brazil call it Zililkawai, and say it represents a hero whose leg was cut off. The Lakota people have a similar story, seeing the constellation as an important chief whose arm was cut off.  Some say Betelgeuse’s reddish colour symbolizes  blood. In Australia, the Wardaman people call the star Yajungin. The name means “owl eyes flickering”.

And there is more: In Tahiti, they call it Anâ-varu, one of the pillars propping up the sky. I like the Hawaiian name Kaulua-koko, the “brilliant red star” and the Lacandon people, part of the Mayan Nations, call it “red butterfly”. And there are more stories from around the world, like the in Sanskrit it is Bahu, part of the constellation of a running antelope.

Red Butterfly or Armpit Star? You decide.