The spectacular show in the sky this week shines a light on the celestial lineage of Zeus and two of his children, both immortalized as constellations that are prominent this month: Perseus, the constellation of the hero that lends his name to this week’s popular meteor shower; and Hercules, the half-brother and great-grandson of Perseus, and though Hercules isn’t as bright as Perseus, he claims a more conspicuous position at the zenith of the sky as night falls.
In contemporary culture the comet Swift/Tuttle is described as the “parent,” or cause, of this week’s Perseid Meteor Shower, but in ancient Greece, the illustrious parent of Perseus was Zeus, king of the Olympians, who rained down upon Danaë where she was held captive, after her father learned from the oracle that his daughter would bear a child that would slay him. In the myth, Zeus transformed himself into a shower of golden stars to unite with her, much like a meteor shower, and so was Perseus conceived.
When Perseus became a father, his son had ten sons and one daughter, Alcmene. Like Perseus’ mother, Alcmene also received a sacred visitation from Zeus, and so conceived Hercules, the mighty hero.
When we look into the sky this week, about an hour after sunset, the constellation Perseus will be visible rising in the northeast, along the Milky Way ~ as soon as the constellation is visible, you can expect the meteor shower to be active, though the activity peaks when the constellation is highest, which is after midnight.
While waiting for Perseus, seek out his great grandson Hercules, straight up overhead as night falls, between the season’s two brightest, Vega and Arcturus.