Archive

Archive for the ‘Constellations’ Category

01/19/2023 – Ephemeris – Gemini, twins with a secret

January 19, 2023 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, January 19th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 19 minutes, setting at 5:33, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:13. The Moon, 2 days before new, will rise at 7:38 tomorrow morning.

Another famous winter constellation is Gemini. The constellation of Gemini the Twins is visible halfway to the zenith in the east, at the top and left of Orion the hunter, at 9 pm. The namesake stars of the two lads, are the two bright stars at the left end of Gemini, and are high and are due east. Castor is on top, while Pollux is below. From them come two lines of stars that outline the two, extending horizontally toward Orion. In Greek mythology the lads were half brothers, Castor was fathered by a mere mortal, while Pollux was fathered by Zeus, but were born together as twins. When Castor was killed during the quest for the Golden Fleece, Pollux pleaded with Zeus to let him die also, so Zeus placed them together in the sky.

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

Gemini finder animation

Gemini finder animation for the second half of January 2023. It’s dated because Mars is dawdling in Taurus near the Pleiades. Mars is now back to heading eastward once again, after being in retrograde or westward motion as the Earth passed it in early December. Mars will officially enter Gemini in March. Created using Stellarium, and GIMP.

01/16/2023 – Ephemeris – Orion’s great nebula

January 16, 2023 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, January 16th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 13 minutes, setting at 5:29, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:15. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 3:52 tomorrow morning.

The brightest interstellar cloud visible in our skies is the Great Orion Nebula. The word nebula is related to the Latin “nebulum” for cloud. The constellation of Orion is filled with nebulae, most of it are dim or dark. The Great Orion Nebula is in Orion’s sword. The sword is what looks like three stars that look dimmer than the three belt stars hanging from the belt. And there are more than three stars here. Around the stars that appear as the center of the sword stars, to the eye, can be seen a haze in binoculars. A telescope with a wider aperture and low power can see detail in the cloud. With more magnification, a clutch of four baby stars can be spotted in the brightest part of the nebula. They light up the nebula and are called the Trapezium.

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 nebulae

Orion is lousy with gas and dust. A regular star factory, or nursery. The red nebulae show the predominance of hydrogen in here. In actuality, the Great Orion Nebula vastly outshines all the other nebulae in Orion. The white nebulosity to the right of Rigel is the Witches Head nebula, probably the reflection of Rigel’s light off a dust cloud. Base image by Bernal Andreo, via Wikipedia. Annotations were created by myself.

The Great Orion Nebula (M42) long exposure photograph

The Great Orion Nebula (M42) long exposure photograph by Scott Anttila. Includes all the sword stars.

01/10/2023 – Ephemeris – The constellation of Orion the hunter, unlucky in love

January 10, 2023 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Tuesday, January 10th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 3 minutes, setting at 5:22, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:18. The Moon, halfway from full to last quarter, will rise at 9:01 this evening.

Before the Moon rises tonight, we will have two hours of darkness. Winter’s central constellation, Orion the hunter, doesn’t need the Moon to be absent to see its principal stars. He’s in the southeast before the Moon rises with red Betelgeuse in one shoulder and dimmer Bellatrix on the other, Saiph at one knee and bright blue-white Rigel at the other. Between his shoulders and knees runs his belt of three stars in a line. Above Betelgeuse, he is holding a club aloft and from Bellatrix he holds a lion skin shield to defend himself from the charge of Taurus the bull, above and right of him. I consider him a hard luck hero, with three different stories on how he died. Unlucky in love, he’s consigned to chase the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades throughout eternity.

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 finder animation with Mars

Orion finder animation with Mars. First, showing the unannotated sky looking southeast at Orion. Second, Orion with lines and labels of the stars at the corners of his body, and other bright stars in the view, plus the Pleiades and bright planet Mars, that’s just happening to be passing through this year. Third, the constellation art for Orion and Taurus the bull. Created using Stellarium, LibreOffice Draw and GIMP.

Here are the three stories of how Orion died: One: Orion raped the goddess Artemis, and so she killed him. Two: Orion was betrothed to Artemis, but her twin brother Apollo was jealous and caused her to kill him in a hunting “accident”. Three: Orion was killed by the sting of a scorpion, which is the reason Orion and Scorpius are never in the sky at the same time.

01/05/2023 – Ephemeris – I’m Sirius about this being the brightest nighttime star!

January 5, 2023 Comments off

Jan 5. This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Thursday, January 5th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 56 minutes, setting at 5:16, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:19. The Moon, 1 day before full, will set at 8:33 tomorrow morning.

The brightest nighttime star, Sirius, rises before 8 pm tonight. It can be found by following the constellation Orion’s three belt stars downward to near the east-southeastern horizon. As far as star-like objects go, Jupiter and Venus can always outshine Sirius. Mars can too, but only when it is near the Earth and this early evening when Mars is high in the sky and Sirius is low in the sky. When the Moon clears out of the evening sky, and Sirius rises higher, the other stars of its constellation will become visible. That constellation is Canis Major, Orion’s great hunting dog, from which it gets its nickname: Dog Star. The name Sirius means Dazzling One, an allusion to its great brightness and, being low in the sky, it twinkles mightily.

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

Sirius finder

A Sirius finder animation for January/early February at around 8 pm. Even in bright moonlight, the seven bright stars of Orion can be seen. The three stars of Orion’s belt make a great pointer to Sirius. Created using Stellarium, GIMP and LibreOffice (for the arrow).

12/23/2022 – Ephemeris – Hunting for the Star of Bethlehem: Venus and Jupiter appear to merge… twice!

December 23, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, December 23rd. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:06, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:18. The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

My favorite astronomical solution to the puzzle of the Star of Bethlehem are two conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus that occurred against the stars of the constellation of Leo the lion 10 months apart on August 12th 3 BCE and June 16th 2 BCE. Leo at that time was associated with Jacob’s son Judah and the land of Judea. The first conjunction occurred in morning twilight. The second in the evening. The first conjunction was close, though someone with excellent eyesight might pick them apart, but the second, would be impossible to separate without a telescope, which wouldn’t be invented for another 16 centuries. And Jesus would have been born in the spring during lambing season when shepherds would have been out all night with their flocks, protecting them. The eclipse that Herod died after would have been on January 10th, 1 BCE, which occurred three months before Passover, enough time for all the palace intrigue* to happen between the lunar eclipse and Passover.

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.

* See yesterday’s post for more information here.

Addendum

Babylonian depiction of Leo.

The Babylonian concept of the constellation Leo. They called it Urgulu, meaning lion. It represented their god Latarak. The star they called Sharru, meaning King we know as Regulus, which is the diminutive of king.

August 12, 3 BC conjunction

Here is an animation created using Stellarium of Jupiter and Venus, the brighter of the two seeming to coalesce on August 12, 3 BC in the early morning twilight. That ghost object that flashed on for one date was the Moon. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

The second appearance of the "Star"

On June 16th 2 BC, this time in the evening, Venus and Jupiter seem to coalesce as one, at least to the naked eye. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Telescopic Jupiter and Venus 6/17/-1 BC.

Venus appeared among Jupiter’s moons on June 16, 2 BC. Of course, no one had a telescope back then. The telescope wouldn’t be invented for another 16 centuries. Stellarium cannot create the real brightness difference between Jupiter and Venus. Venus would be simply dazzling compared to Jupiter, being 12 times brighter. Venus, being an inner planet, shows phases like the Moon. At this time, Venus would have been near its greatest eastern elongation or separation from the Sun, so it would appear as a tiny first quarter moon. Galileo discovered that Venus had phases and orbited the Sun, in the early 17th century. Created using Stellarium.

Merry Christmas!

12/15/2022 – Ephemeris – Stories of the Pleiades from many lands

December 15, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, December 15th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 5:02, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:13. The Moon, 1 day before last quarter, will rise at 12:16 tomorrow morning.

Let’s look at how some ancient cultures saw the Pleiades, the star cluster that is seen high 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 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 (EST, UT –5 hours). They may be different for your location.

* Freya is the Norse goddess from which we get the name of the day of the week Friday from. In Latin, the day is named after the goddess Venus.

Addendum

Greek Pleiades

The Greek Pleiades, a painting by Elihu Vedder in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Public Domain.

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.

12/12/2022 – Ephemeris – Orion and the scorpion

December 12, 2022 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Monday, December 12th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 51 minutes, setting at 5:02, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:11. The Moon, 4 days before last quarter, will rise at 9 this evening.

The wonderful constellation of Orion the hard luck hunter is seen rising in the east as twilight fades. According to one Greek myth he was killed by the sting of a scorpion, thus he can only rise as the summer constellation of Scorpius the scorpion sets in the southwest, and he must set as the scorpion rises on early spring evenings. By 9 pm, he is located in the east-southeast. His three belt stars are nearly vertically arranged in a line and equally spaced. They point down to the horizon, where the brightest nighttime star Sirius will rise at about 9:20 pm. The belt stars lie within a large rectangle of stars tilted to the left. His shoulders and knees. The top left star is the bright red Betelgeuse. The bottom right star is blue-white Rigel. We’ll explore more of Orion all 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

Graphic showing the positions of Orion and Scorpius as the hunter rises

A panorama showing Orion rising while Scorpius the scorpion is below the horizon. Both the atmosphere and the ground were removed in this view. The horizon is the green horizontal line. Orion, apparently, is so afraid of the scorpion, that he won’t enter the sky until the scorpion is long gone, putting the Sun between the two. This business of the two never being in the sky at the same time only works for observers in the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium

11/24/2022 – Ephemeris – Finding Auriga the charioteer

November 24, 2022 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 15 minutes, setting at 5:07, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:52. The Moon, 1 day past new, will set at 5:31 this evening.

The constellation Auriga the charioteer is halfway up the sky in the east northeast at 9 p.m. It is a pentagon of stars, with the brilliant star Capella at the upper left of its corners. Capella represents a mama goat he’s carrying. A narrow triangle of stars just right of Capella are her kids, that is her baby goats. The Kids is an informal constellation or asterism. The Milky Way runs through Auriga, but it’s not very bright here. We are looking away from the center of the Milky Way to the more sparse outer parts of our galaxy. Within and near that pentagon, one can sweep with binoculars and low power telescopes to find several star clusters, groups of hundreds of stars born in the clump we still see them in. These star clusters will appear as fuzzy spots in binoculars.

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

Auriga the charioteer finder animation

Auriga the charioteer finder animation. Mars is nearby between the horns of Taurus for the next week and a half as it works its way to the upper right. The Kids asterism is best seen in the frame without markings because the Capella label covers one of its stars. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

11/22/2022 – Ephemeris – Finding Taurus the bull

November 22, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, November 22nd. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 19 minutes, setting at 5:08, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:50. The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 7:30 tomorrow morning.

Low in the east at 8 this evening and below the beautiful Pleiades star cluster is Taurus the bull. His face is a letter V shape of stars lying on its side, the star cluster Hyades, with the bright orange-red star Aldebaran at one tip of the V as its angry blood-shot eye, but actually about halfway between us and the cluster. The Pleiades star cluster is in his shoulder. Taurus is seen charging downward at that hour, the soon to rise constellation of Orion, with bright Mars near the horn tips. Taurus in Greek mythology was the form the god Zeus assumed when he carried off the maiden Europa. Europa’s still with him as the intriguing satellite completely covered by an ocean below its icy exterior, and orbiting Zeus’ Roman equivalent, the planet Jupiter.

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

Pleiades finder animation

Taurus, Pleiades and Mars finder animation for 8:30 pm tonight, November 22, 2022. Mars is the interloper this year, seen between the horns of Taurus the Bull. The V of stars that make up the face of Taurus the bull is a star cluster of stars called the Hyades. In Greek mythology, they are the half-sisters of the Pleiades. Created using Stellarium, LibreOffice Draw, and GIMP.

Mars retrograde path 2022-2023

Mars retrograde path from October 29, 2022, to January 11, 2023, against the stars of Taurus the bull. It will be at opposition on December 7, and actually closest to the Earth on November 30 at 50.61 million miles or 81.45 million kilometers. In the upper right is the beautiful Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. Below and right is the V shaped star cluster that represents the face of Taurus the bull, with the bright red star Aldebaran as the bull’s angry red eye. That V of stars is called the Hyades, who in mythology were the half sisters to the Pleiades. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts) and GIMP.

Rape of Europa

The Rape of Europa by Titian. According to the story, Zeus as a bull abducted Europa and swam to Crete, where she became the first queen of that island, and bore him three sons. Other paintings of this subject are by Rembrandt and de Troy. This painting belongs to the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston, MA.

11/21/2022 – Ephemeris – The Pleiades or the Seven Sisters

November 21, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, November 21st. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 21 minutes, setting at 5:09, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:49. The Moon, 2 days before new, will rise at 6:10 tomorrow morning.

A marvelous member of the autumn skies can be found low in the east after 8 in the evening. It is the famous star cluster called the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. I might also add the ‘Tiny Dipper’. Many people can spot a tiny dipper shape in its six or seven stars, and mistake it for the Little Dipper. With binoculars, one can see over a hundred stars appear, along with the dipper shape of the brightest. In photographs, the Pleiades actually contain wisps of the dust they are currently passing through. In Greek mythology, the sisters were daughters of the god Atlas. I’ll be revisiting the Pleiades several times this autumn, winter, and before they disappear in the west in evening twilight next spring.

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

Pleiades finder animation

Pleiades finder animation for 8:30 pm tonight, November 21, 2022. Mars is the interloper this year, seen between the horns of Taurus the Bull. The V of stars that make up the face of Taurus the bull is a star cluster of stars called the Hyades. In Greek mythology, they are the half-sisters of the Pleiades. Created using Stellarium, LibreOffice Draw, and GIMP.

The Pleiades, about what you'd see in binoculars.

The Pleiades, about what you’d see in binoculars. To the naked eye, six or seven stars might be glimpsed. As star clusters go, it might seem small and unremarkable, but the Pleiades is nearby, and the brightest star cluster visible. Its stars are regarded by cultures around the world as female stars, generally sisters.  Credit: Mine.