Where are the planets? If you look straight down you will see one – Earth! If you look straight up in the evening, you will see none. Mars and Venus now make morning appearances; Mercury is hanging close to the Sun as usual, and Jupiter has hidden itself behind Old Sol. This month seems to be a time to focus on the stars, and that’s what we’ll do. Oh wait – what about Saturn?
Look West and Look Early.
West is the first direction one should look because that part of the sky is disappearing – well, setting. You will find Saturn at dusk in the southwest, but it will set even before it’s totally dark. Find a friend with a scope and see the rings.
Another disappearing act is being performed by the Big Dipper and its seven bright stars, a part of Ursa Major. At year’s end it is very low and may be partially below your horizon. About 45 degrees above that horizon you might see Polaris and its Little Dipper in Ursa Minor. If this North Star were the center of a clock, and the Little Dipper its hour hand, the dipper is at 9 o’clock in early evening. That “hour hand” will circle through 12 hours every 12 months – it’s a day clock circling once a day, and it’s a year clock too.
The Summer Triangle is high up and heading west. Vega in Lyra is west of Deneb at the tail of the Swan – the two bright stars. Altair in the Eagle is the southernmost vertex in the triangle. The trio is prominent all summer and fall.
Just east of the Swan is the Great Square of Pegasus. From three of its corners you can trace a trail or two of dimmer stars. The trail heading southwest leads us to a star cluster identified as M15. You’ll need your buddy’s scope again for that. The trail going northeast contains a blue-orange double star, namely, Gamma Andromeda. She is the damsel portrayed as hanging from the great flying horse Pegasus in a daring rescue performed by Perseus, a constellation of bright stars seen low in the northeast below the “W-shaped” Cassiopeia representing Andromeda’s mom. Of course, we’re mixing myths and stars in this discussion.
On either side of the slender Andromeda of the sky are galaxies M31(110 in the map) and M33. You’ll need a telescope to acquire the faint spiral of M33, but on a dark night you can see 31, the Andromeda galaxy, without any optical aids. The Milky Way’s twin is a gray fuzzy streak elongated to the north and south.
Look in December.
Coming up in the east later in evening, or later this year, are the cluster of six Pleiades known as the seven sisters – it’s complicated – and the angry bull Taurus with the mean red eye. Even later, the well-armed super macho hunter Orion will rise with his canine companion and the very bright star Sirius. And you’ll have the longest nights of the year to catch them.
Have I mentioned my memoir? It contains an entire chapter on my experiences in starry matters. It’s on sale at the Uncle Bob Store.
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