Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lucy In The Sky

Have you ever looked at a clear night sky just to stare at the stars? I have enjoyed looking at the stars during every season but never from the southern hemisphere. Still, the stars vary enough throughout the year.

The spring brings the most recognized non-constellation, the Big Dipper. It’s a part of the much larger star picture of Ursa Major. The bowl stars from the Bear’s back and belly. From the star Dubhe, faint stars extending westward from the bowl make up the Bear’s neck and head, while five stars curve below (to the south) to form one of its front paws. Extending below the bowl star Phecda are other faint stars that represent its hind legs.

With the campfires of summer, the stars shift allowing a view of the Summer Triangle, three brilliant stars – Vega, Deneb, and Altair. They are set in a large triangle. Like the Big Dipper, it’s not an official constellation but just an interesting pattern among the stars. The three stars in the triangle actually belong to three separate constellations. The brightest star, Vega, is a brilliant blue-white star that glistens like a diamond within the constellation Lyra the Lyre, the mythical instrument of Orpheus. Altair, the triangle’s southernmost star, lays within Aquila the Eagle, marking the beak of the bird. Finally, the third star in the Triangle is Deneb, representing the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Always among the best of late summer is the Perseid meteor shower. So called since the origin, or radiant, of the shower is within the constellation Perseus.

The fall months bring opportunities to witness meteor showers as well, with November’s Leonid and December’s Geminid.

Winter is one of my favorite seasons for looking at the night sky, smog and haze give way to crystal-clear nights. This presents a wonderful opportunity to view Orion on center stage. The Hunter is the most brilliant constellation of all and easy to recognize. Look for the three equally bright stars in a row. These form his belt. North of the belt lies the bright reddish star Betelgeuse (Beatlejuice – loved that movie). Betelgeuse is the right shoulder of Orion (seen on our left). His left shoulder (our right) is represented by the star Bellatrix. Above the shoulders is a faint group of three stars depicting Orion’s tiny head. Below the belt are the stars Rigel, representing Orions’ left knee, and Saiph marking his right knee. Faint stars make up a shield he is holding in his left hand and a club raised high over his head in his right hand. Interestingly, Orion provides examples of stars with differing colors. One of the hottest stars known, Rigel’s blue-white is generated with a surface temperature of about 23,000 degrees – over twice that of our yellow sun. The other of the scale, Betelgeuse’s red color is generated at a surface temperature of only 5,000 degrees. Hanging from the belt of Orion are the dim stars of his sword. The middle star of the sword is actually not even a star. It is a cloud of glowing hydrogen gas known as the Great Orion Nebula by backyard stargazers.
“The stars are blazing like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun.” – Read My Mind by The Killers,
I am grateful for the night sky, for the stars shining above our heads. I am grateful for the times I’ve had to share the sky with my friends and family. I am grateful my daughters have graciously listened to me ramble about the starry sky. Yes, we are blessed with many wonders to behold but today I am particularly grateful for the stars in our sky.

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