Stargazing in the Fall and Winter
Hello all! DK Viola Here! Ah, fall. We love your changing colors, and the rebirth of football season. It's hoodie season, hot chocolate season, or even warm whiskey season, depending on your taste. It's also "massively cool constellation viewing" season! It's good to be an amateur astronomer in the colder months.
In this post, I'm going to cover my three favorite constellations.
For us Northern Hemisphere folks, the sky comes alive with the appearance of our favorite heroes (or villians) of myth and legend. Starting in mid-october (or later, depending on your viewing conditions and elevation, the Seven Sisters of Greek Mythology make their appearance.
Daughters of the Titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione, The Pleiades were said to be beyond beautiful, which caused them to gather a LOT of attention. As the myths go, first, the girls were kidnapped by pirates, but were luckily rescued by Hercules. Then, as they settled down to marry and have children of their own, Orion comes along and turns into their number-one stalker. This guy was relentless!
The sisters eventually escaped Orion's advances (narrowly), but he found them once again. Orion was especially attracted to the youngest sister, Merope. The poor thing was terrified (It was bad enough that she married a mortal and borne his children, which shamed her... but that's another story!), so Zeus, in his kindness put the sisters in the heavens.
Yes! No more stalkers! Wait, what's this? What is this creepy guy doing up here?
Yup! Sorry, girls, but here comes Orion! Beginning around the same time as the Pleiades, Orion and his hunting dogs show up in the eastern sky. He travels the same path as the sisters, taking the eastern-western path across the sky, chasing the Seven Sisters nightly, stopping his chase as dawn approaches.
Orion is unmistakable. Every child knows the shape formed by some of the brightest stars in this season's sky. The Red Supergiant Betelgeuse forms Orion's right shoulder, while Rigel, a Blue Supergiant lies at his foot. Bellatrix, a hot-Blue Giant, sits at Orion's left shoulder. Saiph, another Supergiant, placed at his kneeling leg, along with the previous stars mentioned, complete the quadrangle that forms Orion.
Traveling with Orion are his faithful huntings dogs, Canis Minor, and Canis Major which contains the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. Sirius is a mag -1.46 star. It's brightness comes from it's natural light and companion white dwarf star (Sirius B), and the fact that Sirius is one of our closest neighbors, having a distance of about 2.64 parsecs (around 8.6 light years).
Orion and his dogs travel across the sky dauntingly, inching towards the Pleiades. Will he ever catch them?
STOP! What's this? Orion can't believe his eyes! Another roadblock in his quest to capture Merope! What good it is being a hero if all the decent girls are either taken, or out of reach? Some days it doesn't pay to be greek.
Entering from stage left, we have Taurus the Bull. This guy is nasty! Aldebaran, an orange giant, the brightest star in this constellation makes up the eye of Taurus, and glares daringly at Orion, which is to the bull's left. "Come get some, you creepy stalker dude."
Taurus is the bodyguard of the Seven Sisters. No matter how much Orion tries, he'll never get past Taurus.
Taurus is also a Zodiac sign, and is on the ecliptic, which is an imaginary line that encircles the earth. The Sun is also on the ecliptic, as are all eclipses that occur.
Along with some of the brightest stars in the chilly sky, don't miss seeing the strikingly amazing Crab Nebula and the breath-stopping Orion Nebula. Both visible with a decent telescope.
So, get out your telescopes, stay up late and watch the sky. You won't be disappointed.