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01/06/2022 – Ephemeris – The named stars of Orion

January 6, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, January 6th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 58 minutes, setting at 5:18, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:19. The Moon, 3 days before first quarter, will set at 10:07 this evening.

Orion is still on an angle, leaning to the left, at 8 to 9 pm in the southeastern sky. It’s seven brightest stars have names from antiquity, and some of them are familiar. Starting from the top left, the bright reddish star is famous Betelgeuse. The top right star is Bellatrix, a name familiar to Harry Potter fans. The three stars of his belt, from bottom to top, are Alnilam, Alnitak, and Mintaka. The final bottom two stars from left to right are Saiph, pronounced “safe”. And blue-white Rigel, usually the brightest star of the constellation. These are the stars of Orion’s shoulders, belt and knees. He has other stars that delineate an arm with an upraised club and an arm holding a lion skin shield and a sword hanging from his belt.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion's named stars

Orion’s named stars. Betelgeuse means “Armpit”. Bellatrix means “Female warrior”. The names of Orion’s belt stars refer to belt or girdle, Rigel refers to Orion’s foot. Saiph means sword, however Orion’s sword is the line of three stars below the belt stars. In binoculars, there’s more than three stars here. Around the second “star” of the sword is the Great Orion Nebula, barely visible here. Created using Stellarium.

11/29/2021 – Ephemeris – Orion is rising in the evening sky

November 29, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Monday, November 29th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 6 minutes, setting at 5:04, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:59. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 3:07 tomorrow morning.

In the east, the central winter constellation Orion the hunter throws a leg over the horizon between 8 and 9 p.m. as Robert Frost told in his poem Star-Splitter. The upright rectangle that is his body on December evenings is tilted to the left as he rises, with a bright red star Betelgeuse at the top left of the rectangle, his shoulder. At the opposite corner is blue-white Rigel, a knee. In the center of the rectangle is a line of three stars nearly vertically aligned as he rises, which represents Orion’s belt. The Anishinaabe native peoples of this area call him the Wintermaker. His rising in the evening heralds the coming of winter.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion and Wintermaker rising animation

The stars of Orion and Wintermaker rising in this 4-step animation: Stars only, Western constellation lines and bright star names, Western constellation figure, Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) constellation figure. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

11/26/2021 – Ephemeris – Native American Heritage Day

November 26, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Native American Heritage Day, Friday, November 26th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 11 minutes, setting at 5:05, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:55. The Moon, 1 day before last quarter, will rise at 11:33 this evening.

It’s also Black Friday, the day retail stores theoretically make it into the black, profit-wise. When looking at the sky and the few constellations of the native Anishinaabe people of our area, I am saddened there aren’t more of them. There were heroes, warriors, animals, fantastic and real, just like the Greek ones we learned of the European world. But they were lost in the attempted assimilation of these people into white society. It’s like the Borg of Star Trek: “You will be assimilated”. The atrocities of the Indian boarding schools are slowly coming to light, while certain powerful people want all the racial unpleasantness swept under the rug.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Anishinaabe November Sky

The Anishinaabe November Sky. Clockwise (sort of) from the top or North. The Fisher (Big Dipper); Loon (Little Dipper); Exhausted Bather (Hercules), in the northwest; high in the west, the Crane (Cygnus); nearly overhead, the Moose (Pegasus); and in the east the Wintermaker (Orion). Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium. The Anishinaabe constellation drawings are from Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide by Annette S. Lee, William Wilson, Jeffrey Tibbets and Carl Gawboy available locally and online. They are part of the latest editions of Stellarium, a free planetarium program. Links to it are on the right. Other information and links are available within Stellarium.

11/04/2021 – Ephemeris – Myths of the Pleiades from some other cultures

November 4, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, November 4th. The Sun will rise at 8:25. It’ll be up for 10 hours and 1 minute, setting at 6:26. The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

Let’s look at how some other cultures saw the Pleiades, the star cluster that is seen in the eastern sky these evenings. To the Anishinaabe native peoples around here, the Pleiades is the “Hole in the Sky” or the seven stones that are heated for the sweat lodge ceremony. To the Kiowa, these were sister stars that had been whisked into the sky from the top of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, where they were threatened by a huge bear. In Norse mythology, these were the goddess Freya’s hens. The name we know them by has rather misty origins. Some think the Greek name is from the mother of the seven sisters, Pleione. The Greek word for sail is similar to Pleiades, and it seems the appearance of the Pleiades in the morning sky saw the best sailing weather in the Mediterranean.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Pleiades finder animation

Finding the Pleiades animation for 9 p.m. October 29, 2019. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Devil's Tower

Seven maidens being attacked by a giant bear, having fled to the top of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Painting by Herbert Collins, http://www.nps.gov/deto.

They are also the Seven Daughters of the Moon and Sun. They loved to dance and play, and when their father, the Moon was low in the sky, would descend to the Earth in a basket to do their thing. On one of their trips to the earth, one of them was captured by a human, and she ended up falling in love with him, and married him. When father Moon found out he permanently dimmed her star, so now most people now only can spot 6 of the stars. This last bit seems to parallel the Greek story of the lost Pleiad.

10/28/2021 – Ephemeris – The spookiest star in the sky

October 28, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, October 28th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 21 minutes, setting at 6:36, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:17. The Moon, at last quarter today, will rise at 12:31 tomorrow morning.

We are getting down to the spookiest time of the year, with Halloween on Sunday, so it’s time to talk about the spookiest star in the sky, Algol the Ghoul or Demon Star. It’s in the constellation of Perseus the hero, now rising in the northeastern sky. The constellation itself looks like the Greek letter pi, or like the cartoon Roadrunner with its long legs. Algol is the second brightest star in the constellation, near the Roadrunner’s leading foot. That’s where the eye of the severed head of Medusa, that Perseus is carrying. It’s still winking, once every 2 days and 21 hours*. Tonight it will be in the deepest part of its wink at 8:43 pm. It will take about three hours to recover its usual brightness. I recall that the ancient Chinese weren’t fond of that star either.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.

* More specifically, 2 days, 20 hours, 49 minutes on average and altered by Earth’s changing distance from the star due to its orbit of the Sun.

Addendum

Algol Finder Animation

Algol Finder Animation for around 8 pm in the later part of October and early November (7 pm after the EST time change on the first Sunday in November). Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Algol is an eclipsing binary star, where one star eclipses the other.

Eclipsing Binary Star

Animation of an eclipsing binary star like Algol. Credit: Wikimedia Commons h/t Earth and Sky

10/26/2021 – Ephemeris – The bright star Capella is slowly ascending in the northeastern sky

October 26, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, October 26th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 26 minutes, setting at 6:39, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:14. The Moon, 2 days before last quarter, will rise at 10:29 this evening.

The bright star that’s been hanging out fairly low in the northeastern sky in the evening lately is Capella, sometimes called the Goat Star. It’s at the top of a rather oddly shaped pentagon of stars that make up the constellation Auriga, the charioteer. A small, thin triangle of stars to Capella’s right is called the Kids*. Her kids. I’m not sure what a fellow is doing holding 4 goats while driving a chariot. Maybe that’s how he ended up in the sky. Capella itself consists of two yellow giant stars, about the same temperature as the Sun, but much larger. Capella is circumpolar for most of northern Michigan, meaning it never sets. It gets pretty low in the north on summer evenings.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.

* I’ve always known them as the Kids. Stellarium calls them the Goatlings.

Addendum

Capella and Auriga low in the northeastern sky

Capella and Auriga, low in the northeastern sky. I left the Kids unannotated, but they are easy to find near Capella. An animation created using Stellarium and GIMP.

10/07/2021 – Ephemeris – The loneliest star in the sky

October 7, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Thursday, October 7th. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 23 minutes, setting at 7:11, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:49. The Moon, 1 day past new, will set at 8:06 this evening.

There’s a bright star that appears for only seven and a half hours on autumn nights. It’s appearance, low in the south-southeast at 9 p.m., is a clear indication of the autumn season. The star’s name is Fomalhaut, which means fish’s mouth. That’s fitting because it’s in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish. At our latitude it’s kind of the fish that got away, because Fomalhaut appears to be quite alone low in the sky. The dimness of the constellation’s other stars and location close to the horizon make the other stars hard to spot. The Earth’s thick atmosphere near the horizon reduces their brightness by a factor of two or more, so Fomalhaut, one of the brightest stars in the sky, keeps a lonely vigil in the south.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT-4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Fomalhaut in October 2021

Fomalhaut at 9 pm, October 7, 2021. This year it has two bright planets relatively nearby, By they’re just passing through, albeit slowly. Normally the closest first magnitude star to Fomalhaut is Altair, the southernmost of the Summer Triangle stars. Created using Stellarium.

09/28/2021 – Ephemeris – Andromeda, a damsel in distress

September 28, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Tuesday, September 28th. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 50 minutes, setting at 7:28, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:38. The Moon, at last quarter today, will rise at 11:46 this evening.

In the east at 9 this evening can be found a large square of stars, the Great Square of Pegasus the flying horse. The square is standing on one corner. What looks like its hind legs stretching to the left from the left corner star is another constellation, Andromeda the chained princess. She is seen in the sky as two diverging curved strings of stars that curve upward. She was doomed due to her mother, Queen Cassiopeia’s boasting, which angered the god Poseidon. She was rescued by the hero Perseus, a nearby constellation, riding his steed Pegasus. Andromeda’s claim to astronomical fame is the large galaxy seen with the naked-eye just above the upper line of stars. The Great Andromeda Galaxy is two and a half million light years away.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT-4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Andromeda finder animation

Andromeda finder animation surrounded by the other constellations in her story, except the monster, which will rise later. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Andromeda Galaxy finder chart

Great Andromeda Galaxy finder chart. This image shows the galaxy almost to its fullest extent. In the finder animation above, the galaxy looks pretty much as it would to the naked eye. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium.

Astronomers often refer to this galaxy as M 31 for short. It was the 31st entry in Charles Messier’s catalog of objects that could be confused as being comets by comet hunters like himself. It was added in 1764. He didn’t care what these fuzzy objects were, just that they didn’t move against the background stars. Actually, M 31 is in the background. The stars are in the foreground, in our Milky Way Galaxy.

 

09/24/2021 – Ephemeris – Capricornus, home this season to Jupiter and Saturn

September 24, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Friday, September 24th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 3 minutes, setting at 7:35, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:33. The Moon, halfway from full to last quarter, will rise at 9:26 this evening.

Nearly 2000 years ago the southernmost of the constellations of the zodiac was Capricornus the water goat. That’s why the latitude on the Earth where the Sun is overhead on the winter solstice is called the Tropic of Capricorn. Not anymore, Sagittarius, one constellation west, has that honor today*. Capricornus is large, but made up of dim stars. To me, it looks like a 45 degree isosceles triangle, long side up, but which all the sides are sagging. The constellation is found low in the south at 10 to 11 p.m. The image that is supposed to be represented by the stars is that of a goat whose hind quarters are replaced by a fish’s tail, not a mermaid but a mer-goat. This autumn, Jupiter is at the left end of Capricornus, with Saturn on the right.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT-4 hours). They may be different for your location.

The reason for the shift is lunisolar precession, which I talked about yesterday.

Addendum

Capricornus w/Jupiter & Saturn finder animation

Capricornus w/Jupiter & Saturn finder animation for 10 pm, September 24, 2021. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

09/09/2021 – Ephemeris – The constellation of Cassiopeia the Queen

September 9, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, September 9th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 8:04, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:16. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 9:40 this evening.

Tonight, check out the crescent Moon, with Venus below left of it. Cassiopeia is a constellation shaped like the letter W seen in the northeast these evenings. In Greek mythology, she was the queen of Ethiopia. She was very beautiful and very boastful of that fact. She even compared her beauty with that of the sea nymphs, daughters of the sea god Poseidon. Papa was not amused. So Cassiopeia’s daughter, the Princess Andromeda, was made to suffer for it. Poseidon sent a sea monster, Cetus, to ravage the coastal cities of the country. The only way to stop it was to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster. Andromeda and Cetus are constellations we’ll meet in the coming weeks. We’ve already met Pegasus, the flying horse, rising in the east. And we are yet to meet the hero, Perseus.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hr). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Venus and te Moon in evening twilight

Venus and the Moon in evening twilight, about a half hour after sunset tonight, September 9, 2021. Created using Stellarium.

Cassiopeia finder animation

Cassiopeia finder animation looking northeast in mid-September, an hour and a half after sunset. Created using Stellarium.