Archive

Archive for the ‘Stars’ Category

05/03/2022 – Ephemeris – Regulus, the “Little King Star”

May 3, 2022 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Tuesday, May 3rd. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 20 minutes, setting at 8:50, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:28. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 12:05 tomorrow morning.

Fairly high in the south-southwest at 10 p.m. is a pattern of stars that’s in the shape of a backward question mark. This informal star group or asterism is also called the sickle. It is the head and mane of the official zodiacal constellation of Leo the lion. To the left is a triangle of stars is his hind end. The bright star at the bottom of the question mark, or end of the sickle’s handle is Regulus, the “Little King Star”, alluding to the lion’s status as the king of the jungle. Regulus is about 79 light years away and is a 4 star system that exists as two star pairs. The bright star Regulus itself and a companion too close to be imaged directly in telescopes, and a nearby pair of dim stars make up the system. The Moon often passes in front of Regulus, since it’s close to the ecliptic. These occultations, as they are called, will occur monthly for a year and a half starting July

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

Finder chart for Leo and Regulus

Animated finder chart for Leo and Regulus for early May at 10 pm or an hour after sunset. The orange line that appears is the ecliptic, the path of the Sun in the sky. The path of the Moon is tilted by about 5 degrees to that path. The paths cross at points called nodes. The nodes move slowly westward in an 18.6-year cycle called the regression of the nodes. Occultations of Regulus by the Moon occur during two periods in that cycle. The next period where occultations of Regulus will occur monthly from July 2025 to January 2027. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Occultations are like solar eclipses in that they can only be seen from a limited area. That area will shift southward during that period. Of the 21 occultations in that period, only 2 will be visible from the United States: February 3rd, and April 26th 2026.

04/18/2022 – Ephemeris – Arcturus, the fourth-brightest nighttime star*

April 18, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, April 18th. Today the Sun will be up for 13 hours and 38 minutes, setting at 8:31, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:51. The Moon, 2 days past full, will rise at 11:17 this evening.

The fourth-brightest nighttime star* is now up in the east these evenings. It is Arcturus, a bright star with an orange hue. It can be found otherwise by finding the Big Dipper and tracing out and extending the curve of the handle and saying the phrase “Follow the arc of the handle to Arcturus”, to remember the name of the star and how to find it. Arcturus is about 37 light years from us and is moving quite rapidly across the sky, compared to most stars, but one would not notice it to the naked eye in one’s lifetime. Arcturus is slightly more massive than our Sun, and about 7 billion years old, and is entering its red giant stage of life after using all the hydrogen fuel in its core. Our Sun, being slightly less massive, will survive on hydrogen a bit longer.

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.

*Or 5th brightest star, depending on which list you look at. Arcturus and Vega, which is just above the horizon in the northeast at 10 pm, are nearly the same brightness, however Vega is white while Arcturus is orange, making brightness comparisons difficult visually. Stellarium, however, reports Vega is a slightly brighter magnitude 0.00, while Arcturus is 0.15. My older lists say Arcturus is the 4th brightest star. I’m an older guy, so I’m sticking with it.

Addendum

How to find Arcturus nearly a month into spring. Arcturus is in the east in the evening. The Big Dipper is high in the northeast standing on its handle. To find and remember the name of this star, simply follow the arc of the handle to Arcturus. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

I’ll have more tidbits about this remarkable star throughout the spring and summer. Can’t wait? Search for Arcturus on this blog.

03/03/2022 – Ephemeris – Finding Cancer the crab

March 3, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, March 3rd. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 16 minutes, setting at 6:33, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:15. The Moon, 1 day past new, will set at 7:46 this evening.

The constellation of Cancer the crab is made of dim stars, which are generally connected, in constellation charts, with lines that make either the letter K or an upside down Y, which lie directly between the star pair Castor and Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo. In the center of the constellation is, what to the naked-eye is a fuzzy spot called Praesepe, or the manger. The two nearby stars, one to the northeast, and one to the southeast are Asellus Borealis, and Asellus Australis, the northern and southern donkey colts feeding out of the manger. Viewing that fuzzy spot with a pair of binoculars will reveal that it’s not fuzzy at all. It resolves into a cluster of stars, which astronomers, over the years, have called the Beehive cluster. Back in the first and second century CE, the Sun entered Cancer to begin the season of summer. It’s now just a transitional constellation between the winter and spring evening skies.

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

Cancer the Crab

Cancer, the crab finder chart. Note the beehive cluster, also known to amateur astronomers as M44, along with other catalog names. Prior to the invention of the telescope this cluster was known as Praesepe which means “Manger”. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Closer look at Cancer

A closer look at Cancer, noting the donkey stars Asellus Borealis and Australis feeding at the manger, Praesepe or M44, aka: the Beehive Cluster. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts) and LibreOffice for captions. Adapted from a chart I created for the March 2022 issue of the GTAS newsletter, the Stellar Sentinel.

02/28/2022 – Ephemeris – Ancient Egypt’s most important star

February 28, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, February 28th. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 7 minutes, setting at 6:29, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:20. The Moon, 2 days before new, will rise at 7:17 tomorrow morning.

The Ancient Egyptian agricultural year began with the flooding of the Nile, which was announced by the heliacal rising of the brightest nighttime star, Sirius. A heliacal rising is the first appearance of a star in the morning twilight after disappearing in evening twilight some months before. The Greeks called the star Sothis, while the ancient Egyptians called the star Sopdet. The heliacal rising would occur on July 20th had our calendar been in use back then. The relationship between the summer solstice and the heliacal rising of Sothis, 29 days later, stayed the same for nearly three millennia, from at least 2900 BCE to 12 CE, despite precession* of the Earth’s axis moving the Sun from the middle of the constellation Leo at the summer solstice to the western edge of Cancer one and a half constellations west. Sopdet was personified by a goddess, who was the consort to Sah, who is what they called Orion.

———-

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.

* Precession of the equinoxes. The slow, 26,000 year wobble of the Earth’s axis which causes the Earth, most of the time, to not have a pole star. We’re lucky to live at a time to have a bright star within a degree of the north celestial pole. That star is, of course, Polaris. Precession also changes the point in the sky, along the ecliptic and zodiac, where the Sun appears on the first day of spring, or any season. These points move westward along the ecliptic (the plane of the earth’s orbit of the Sun) one degree every 72 years.

Addendum

The Egyptian used the heliacal rising of Sirius as a signal that the flooding of the Nile was imminent, starting their agricultural year. The Greeks called the star Sothis, while the Egyptians themselves called it Sopdet, a goddess, and consort of the god Sah, our Orion.
Part of my presentation, December 2021 of Ancient Astronomy of the Egyptians and Babylonians.

02/25/2022 – Ephemeris – The star that’s called the Pup

February 25, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, February 25th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 58 minutes, setting at 6:25, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:25. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 5:04 tomorrow morning.

Sirius is the brightest nighttime star and is located in the south at 9 p.m. below and a bit left of Orion the Hunter. We’ve visited Sirius last Friday. But there is another star in the Sirius system that is practically invisible due to Sirius’ dazzling glare. Its name is Sirius B, nicknamed the Pup, alluding to Sirius’ Dog Star title as the heart of Canis Major, Orion’s larger hunting dog. The tiny star was suspected as far back as 1834 due to Sirius’ wavy path in the sky against the more distant stars. Sirius and the Pup have 50-year orbits of each other. The Pup was first seen by famed 19th century telescope maker Alvan Clark in 1862 while testing a new telescope. The Pup was the first of a new class of stars to be discovered, white dwarfs. The Pup, with the mass of the Sun, is packed into the volume of the Earth.

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 late 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).

Sirius' path

Sirius A & B’s path in the sky, showing the wobble that betrayed the Pup’s presence. Credit Mike Guidry, University of Tennessee.

Two views of Sirius and the Pup

Sirius A and B imaged by two different space telescopes, revealing dramatically different views! Hubble’s image (left) shows Sirius A shining brightly in visible light, with diminutive Sirius B a tiny dot. However, in Chandra’s image (right) tiny Sirius B is dramatically brighter in X-rays! The “Universe in a Different Light” activity highlights more surprising views of some familiar objects: http://bit.ly/different-light-nsn NASA, ESA, H. Bond (STScI), and M. Barstow (University of Leicester) (left); NASA/SAO/CXC (right)

02/18/2022 – Ephemeris – Sirius, the brightest nighttime star

February 18, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, February 18th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 37 minutes, setting at 6:15, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:36. The Moon, 2 days past full, will rise at 8:32 this evening.

In the evening, the great constellation of Orion the hunter can be seen in the south. Its large rectangle of bright stars is easily visible, even with a full moon. The three stars in a straight line, his belt, tilt downward to the left to a very bright star merrily twinkling lower in the sky. 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 is the brightest star in the night sky, and 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 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 belt points to Sirius

In the southern sky, Orion’s belt points to Sirius. Created using Stellarium, Libreoffice and GIMP.

01/31/2022 – Ephemeris – The winter circle of bright stars

January 31, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, January 31st. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 47 minutes, setting at 5:50, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:01. The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 8:48 tomorrow morning.

The winter skies are blessed with more first magnitude stars than any other season. Six of these stars lie in a large circle centered on the seventh, It’s called the Winter Circle. This circle is up in the evening. Starting high overhead is yellow Capella in Auriga the charioteer. Moving down clockwise is orange Aldebaran in the face of Taurus the Bull. Then down to Orion’s knee, we find blue-white Rigel. Down and left is the brightest star of all the brilliant white Sirius the Dog Star in Canis Major, lowest of these stars in the south-southeast. Moving up and left is white Procyon in Canis Minor, Above Procyon is Pollux in Gemini, the twins. All these are not quite centered on Betelgeuse, the bright red star in Orion’s shoulder.

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

Winter Circle

The bright stars of winter arrayed in a not so accurate circle. Some call it the Winter Hexagon. These stars are what make the winter sky so brilliant on the rare clear night in winter. Created using Stellarium.

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

10/07/2021 – 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.

07/26/2021 – Ephemeris – Albireo, a colorful double star in Cygnus the swan

July 26, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, July 26th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 52 minutes, setting at 9:15, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:23. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 11:15 this evening.

Alberio is the name given to the star that is in the beak of the constellation of Cygnus the swan, which is high in the east these evenings. It is also at the foot of the asterism or informal constellation of the Northern Cross. To the naked eye Alberio looks like a single star, however even in small telescopes* its true nature is revealed. It is a double star whose individual star colors are strikingly different Its brightest star is yellow, and the dimmer star is blue. While star colors are subtle, these two, due to their apparent closeness, make an obvious color contrast. Unlike what your interior decorator says: In stars blue is hot, yellow, orange and red are cool. Also, it turns out that Alberio’s component stars don’t orbit each other. It is what is called an optical double. The blue star is a bit farther away than the yellow one, though they’re both around 430 light years away.

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.

* It will take at least about 20 power magnification to split. Binoculars won’t do it.

Addendum

Albireo finder animation

Animated Albireo finder chart. Albireo is located in the head of Cygnus the swan, or at the base of the Northern Cross. Tagged stars are, beside Albireo, the stars of the Summer Triangle: Deneb, Vega and Altair plus the star at the junction of the upright and crosspiece of the cross, Sadr. Created using Stellarium.

Albireo photographed in a telescope

Albireo, captured at high magnification by the staff of the Smithsonian Institution.