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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.

01/10/2023 – 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.

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

11/22/2022 – 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.

10/17/022 – Ephemeris – Andromeda, damsel in distress

October 17, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, October 17th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 6:54, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:02. The Moon, at last quarter today, will rise at 12:18 tomorrow morning

In the east at 9 this evening can be found a large square of stars, the Great Square of Pegasus the upside down 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 nearly horizontal but 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 scientific fame is the large galaxy seen as a faint fuzzy spot 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 looking east at 9 pm tonight, October 17, 2022. The left corner star of the Great Square of Pegasus is called Alpheratz, and actually belongs to Andromeda. The faint fuzzy spot labeled M31 is the Great Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s large neighbor. I’ll talk more about it tomorrow. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

I’ve related Andromeda’s story in my post The Great Star Story of Autumn.

09/27/2022 – Ephemeris – Finding the constellation of Perseus the hero

September 27, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, September 27th. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 54 minutes, setting at 7:30, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:37. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 8:28 this evening.

Close to the horizon, but rising in the northeast in the evening, is the constellation of Perseus the Greek hero, holding as his prize the severed head of Medusa. To me, the stars don’t seem to match the figure in the stars. It’s either the Greek letter pi (π) tilted to the left or the cartoon roadrunner running up the sky. Perseus’ brightest star is Mirfak in the middle of the top of the letter π, or back of the roadrunner. Using a pair of binoculars to look towards Mirfak, one can see many more stars, just below naked eye visibility near it. It’s a very loose star cluster called the Alpha (α) Persei Association, α Persei being a catalog designation for Mirfak. And Mirfak is actually in the association. Unlike some bright stars, who are just foreground stars.

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

For my take on the mythology featuring Perseus, see The Great Star Story of Autumn. It’s way too long for my short radio program. For Hollywood’s treatment of the story, see Clash of the Titans.

Perseus finder animation

Perseus finder using the animated GIF to show the star field, constellation lines and names, and Perseus as art. Cassiopeia is included as a means to find the dimmer Perseus below it on autumn evenings. Algol, another important star and the second-brightest star of Perseus, is also labeled. I normally cover it around Halloween, but if you can’t wait, type Algol in the search box at the upper right. Created using Stellarium, LibreOffice Draw, and GIMP.

Alpha Persei Association

The Alpha Persei Association. The brightest star is Mirfak (Alpha Persei). This is a small section of a photograph taken February 18, 2017, Canon EOS Rebel T5, 121 seconds, f/3.5, 18 mm fl., ISO 3200. Credit Bob Moler.

09/20/2022 – Ephemeris – Finding the constellation of Pegasus the flying horse

September 20, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, September 20th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 16 minutes, setting at 7:43, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:28. The Moon, 3 days past last quarter, will rise at 2:33 tomorrow morning.

Rising about a third of the way up the sky in the east as it gets dark around 9 pm can be found one of the great autumn constellations: Pegasus the flying horse of Greek myth. Its most visible feature is a large square of four stars, now standing on one corner. This feature, called the Great Square of Pegasus, represents the front part of the horse’s body. The horse is quite aerobatic, because it is seen flying upside down. Remembering that fact, the neck and head is a bent line of stars emanating from the right corner star of the square. Its front legs can be seen in a gallop extending to the upper right from the top star of the square. From the left star extend, not hind legs but the constellation of Andromeda, the princess rescued with the help of Pegasus.

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

Pegasus-Andromeda finder

Pegasus & Andromeda animated finder chart for 9 pm in mid-September. To the upper left are most of the stars of the “W” shape of Cassiopeia the queen, Andromeda’s mother. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Pegasus, Andromeda and Cassiopeia plus other constellations are characters in the great star story of autumn which I relate here.

09/19/2022 – Ephemeris – Finding the constellation Cepheus

September 19, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, September 19th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 19 minutes, setting at 7:45, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:27. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 1:30 tomorrow morning.

There’s a faint constellation in the northeast above the W shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. It’s a nearly upside down church steeple of a constellation called Cepheus the king, and husband of queen Cassiopeia. Cepheus’ claim to modern astronomical fame is that one of its stars, Delta (δ) Cephei, is the archetype for the important Cepheid variable stars. Delta is the bottom most of a trio of stars at the right corner of the constellation. In the early 20th century, Henrietta Leavitt discovered that Cepheids in the nearby galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud varied in brightness with a period that was related to their average brightness. This meant that Cepheids could be used as standard candles to measure the great distances to other galaxies.

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

Cassiopeia and Cepheus finder animation

Cassiopeia and Cepheus finder animation looking in the northeast at 9 pm or about an hour after sunset in mid-September. Also labeled is Delta (δ) Cephei. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Delta_Cephei_lightcurve

Light Curve of Delta Cephei. The pulsation period is 5.367 days. Note the Magnitude vertical axis, the lower the magnitude the brighter the star is. Blame that on the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, 2nd century BC. It’s like golf scores; the lower the score, the better the golfer, and for magnitudes, the brighter the star. Credit: Thomas K Vbg – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13887639.