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02/07/2019 – Ephemeris – Siriusly, folks.

February 7, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, February 8th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 7 minutes, setting at 6:01, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:52. The Moon, half way from new to first quarter, will set at 9:48 this evening.

At 9 in the evening the great constellation of Orion the hunter can be seen in the south. Its large rectangle of bright stars is now upright, while in the center is a row of three stars, his belt. These stars tilt downward to the left to a very bright star merrily twinkling in the south-southeast. This star is called Sirius, also known as the Dog Star because it’s in the heart of Orion’s larger hunting dog, Canis Major. It is an arc light white star as seen in binoculars or telescope. It’s a neighboring star, just twice the distance of the closest star to the sun at 8.6 light years. It’s name, Sirius, has nothing to do with a dog, but is from the Greek meaning scorching for its brightness or sparkling, due to its intense twinkling.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion's Belt points to Sirius

Orion’s Belt points to Sirius. Created using Stellarium.

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12/10/2018 – Ephemeris – How the star Procyon got its name

December 10, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, December 10th. The Sun will rise at 8:09. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 5:02. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 8:09 this evening.

Visible low in the east at 9 p.m. or a little after will appear the star Procyon, sometimes called the little Dog Star. It’s in the constellation of Canis Minor, the little dog. It will rise at 8:40 p.m. for the Traverse City Interlochen area. Yet to rise at that time is the Dog Star itself, Sirius, the brightest night-time star. It won’t rise until 9:15 p.m., 35 minutes later even though Sirius is west of Procyon. I bring this up because the name Procyon means Before the Dog. At our latitude Procyon rises before any part of Canis Major, the big dog that Sirius is in the heart of. This is sensitive to one’s latitude. At the equator, say in Ecuador. Sirius would rise first due to its westerly position by 54 minutes. You see Procyon is also north of Sirius and that makes all the difference.

Note at 31 degrees north latitude they will rise together. Explain that, flat-earthers!

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Procyon rising before Sirius

Stars and constellations in the east at 9:30 p.m., about 4 hours after sunset, on December 10th. This only works for locations above 30 degrees north latitude. Created using Stellarium.

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02/08/2018 – Ephemeris – The wonderfully named stars of Orion

February 8, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, February 8th. The Sun will rise at 7:53. It’ll be up for 10 hours and 8 minutes, setting at 6:01. The Moon, 1 day past last quarter, will rise at 3:09 tomorrow morning.

The constellation of Orion the hunter is visible in the south at 9 p.m. The stars of Orion are interesting in themselves. Starting at the top left of the seven bright stars of Orion’s torso is Betelgeuse the bright red star, whose name means something like “Armpit of the Giant”. The star in Orion’s other shoulder is Bellatrix the “Amazon Star”. Below are the three stars of Orion’s belt, from left to right; Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Their names mean “Girdle”, “Belt of Pearls”, and “Belt” respectively. Down to Orion’s knees we look on the left to the star Saiph pronounced ‘safe’ which means “Sword”, though it is some ways from the stars of Orion’s sword. Finally there’s the bright blue-white star Rigel whose name means “Left Leg of the Giant”.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion with star names.

The named stars of Orion. Created using Stellarium.

Betelgeuse, pronounced Beetlejuice is the name of a 1988 movie, where Betelgeuse (spelled properly) is a particularly mischievous demon.  Don’t say his name three times, or he’ll come and ‘help’ you.  Oops, I did.  It is a red giant star near the end of its life.

Bellatrix, is now known to most of us now as the first name as the first name of Bellatrix Lestrange from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book and movie series.  Other members of the Black family have astronomical names, such as Regulus (Leo) Black, and Sirius (Canis Major) Black.

The names of the belt stars were taught to me by Evelyn Grebel of the Grand Rapids Public Museum in the late 1950s.  She was one of the founders of the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association.  The names Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka have stuck with me ever since.  It was through her that I was able to worm my way into working at the museum’s new then unnamed planetarium.  I also remember being in her office with her, listening to the radio as Alan Shepard made his historic suborbital flight on May 5th, 1961.

Rigel is a hot blue-white star, and will probably become a red giant star like Betelgeuse.  There is another bright star named Rigel, but most don’t know it.  It’s Rigel Kentaurus, the leg of the centaur of Centaurus.  It’s better known as Alpha Centauri, a catalog designation, and the nearest star to the solar system.

12/04/2017 – Ephemeris – Orion rising in the moonlight

December 4, 2017 1 comment

Ephemeris for Monday, December 4th. The Sun will rise at 8:02. It’ll be up for exactly 9 hours, setting at 5:02. The Moon, 1 day past full, will rise at 6:32 this evening.

Now that the Moon is quite bright and making the fainter stars in the constellations harder to find, let’s look at one of the bright stars of Winter. Tonight at 8 p.m. the bright reddish star Betelgeuse is low in the east, but will be rising higher and moving slightly southward, as the rest of the bright stars in its constellation of Orion the hunter also clear the horizon. To its right are a nearly vertical line of three equally spaced stars, Orion’s belt. Betelgeuse is in Orion’s shoulder. The name Betelgeuse is a corruption of the Arabic phrase “Armpit of the Central One”, although there’s some debate about that translation. Betelgeuse is maybe only 7 million years old, but due to its great mass of up to 20 times that of the Sun, is already dying.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion rising

Orion rising in the light of a super moo at 8 p.m.,, about 3 hours after sunset, December 4, 2017. Created using Stellarium.

02/17/2017 – Ephemeris – The stars of the Belt of Orion

February 17, 2017 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, February 17th.  The Sun will rise at 7:39.  It’ll be up for 10 hours and 35 minutes, setting at 6:14.  The Moon, 1 day before last quarter, will rise at 1:15 tomorrow morning.

Let’s take a closer look at the central constellation of the winter sky, the giant hunter Orion.  His most remarkable feature in his Belt of three stars in a straight line.  It’s the brightest, straightest and most equidistant line of stars I know of.  It points down and left to the brightest star Sirius the dog star and up to the right of Aldebaran the angry bloodshot eye in Taurus the bull.  The star names as taught to me by Grand Rapids Public Museum curator Evelyn Grebel in my youth in the 1950s was from left to right Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.  All the names reference a belt or girdle.   Alnitak lights up a faint cloud that can sometimes be glimpsed with binoculars called the Flame Nebula,  Just below it and invisible except in photographs is the Horsehead Nebula.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion's named stars

Orion’s named stars including the belt stars. Created using Stellarium.

Orion's Belt

Orion’s belt stars showing the nebulae illuminated by Alnitak. The Flame Nebula above left of it and the Horsehead Nebula below.  At this scale the horse’s head figure appears as a dark  bump into the left edge of the red glow.

The Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula: On the left in visible light from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, while the image on the right is from the Hubble Space Telescope’s near infrared camera. Infrared light penetrated dust and gas better than visible light. This image is rotated about 90 degrees counterclockwise from the above image.

01/26/2017 – Ephemeris – Is it a dachshund or a hot dog?

January 26, 2017 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, January 26th.  The Sun will rise at 8:07.  It’ll be up for 9 hours and 36 minutes, setting at 5:43.  The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 7:40 tomorrow morning.

The constellation Orion has two hunting dogs.  We’ve seen Canis Major the greater dog at Orion’s feet with Sirius in its heart.  The lesser dog, Canis Minor is level with Betelgeuse in Orion’s shoulder and off to the left.  Just two stars mark it.  Is it a dachshund or is it a hot dog?  You decide.  It’s brighter star’s name is Procyon which means “Before the dog”, an odd title.  It means that though east of Sirius, it rises before Sirius, due to its more northerly position in the sky.  In many ways Procyon is nearly a twin of Sirius.  It shines with the same white color, although a bit cooler, and has a white dwarf companion like Sirius.  It’s a bit farther away than Sirius’ 8 light years.  Procyon is 11 and a half light years away.  Procyon, Betelgeuse and Sirius make the winter triangle.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion and hunting dogs

Procyon and Orion’s hunting dogs animation also showing the Winter Triangle asterism*. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

* Asterism – an informal constellation like the Big Dipper, the Northern Cross, or the Summer Triangle.  Not one of the 88 official constellations.

12/27/2016 – Ephemeris – The stars of Orion

December 27, 2016 2 comments

Ephemeris for Tuesday, December 27th.  The Sun will rise at 8:19.  It’ll be up for 8 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 5:09.  The Moon, 2 days before new, will rise at 7:26 tomorrow morning.

The large and bright constellation of Orion the hunter is in the southeast at 9 p.m., with the bright star Sirius below it near the horizon.  The equally spaced line of three stars of Orion’s belt are nearly vertical and point down to Sirius, also known as the Dog Star in Canis Major, Orion’s greater dog.  The whole of its constellation stars aren’t up at 9 p.m., but they will all clear the horizon by 10 p.m.   Those three belt stars are in the center of an elongated rectangle of stars  At the top left of Orion’s shoulder stars is the red giant star Betelgeuse.  The right shoulder star is Bellatrix.  Both Bellatrix and Sirius along with the names of other stars and constellations should be familiar to fans of the Harry Potter novels and movies, as members of the house of Black.  The knee stars at the bottom of the rectangle are, from left to right Saiph and the brilliant blue giant star Rigel.  Between his belt and knees are stars of his sword.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Orion

Orion, star names, and constellation art animation position for 9 p.m. December 27. Created using Stellarium and GIMP. Artist: Johan Meuris.

In the image above I’ve added the belt star names, though they are generally covered in a program of their own.