Constellation of the week May 27, 2018

If you’d like to learn to find constellations in the night sky, I’m going to help.  Each week I’ll explain how to find and identify a new constellation and hopefully I’ll make it easy.  The first thing you’re going to need to do is find due South.  If you’ve got a compass this will be easy.  If not, there are compass apps for smart phones and tablets.  Another way to find South is to Google your location and determine South.  (This assumes you’re in the Northern hemisphere.)

Now that you’ve found South, go outside at about 9:00 pm.  Looking South, about half way from your horizon to the zenith (directly over your head), you should see a fairly bright star a little to the East (your left).  That star is Spica and it marks the foot of the constellation Virgo.  Virgo is supposed to be a maiden, but my imagination isn’t quite good enough to see her.  I do see a very large letter Y, with Spica right at the tip of the tail of the Y.  If you have a clear enough sky and not too much light pollution, see what your imagination conjures.

Virgo

A little further to the East you should see a very bright “star”.  Why the quotes?  That’s not a star, it’s Jupiter.  If you look carefully you’ll notice Jupiter doesn’t seem to twinkle, while Spica does.  The reason is, though Jupiter seems to your mind about the same size as the stars, it is actually a dot as opposed to a point of light.  As the light from stars passes through our atmosphere it is refracted by the different different layers of air.  That refraction makes the point of light appear to wiggle.  Jupiter on the other hand, being a dot, while the dot wiggles as well, the wiggle is small compared to the size of the dot, so you can’t see it twinkle.

Let me know if you are able to find Virgo and if this has been helpful.  Next week I’ll identify another constellation. Also send along any questions you have about the night sky and I’ll try to answer them.

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