The Winter Circle

Lets look for some more constellations and stars.  When you go out tonight  try to find some of the Winter constellations.  Start by finding Orion.  It should be just about a little west of due South  at around 8:00 (turn around after you finished finding the North Star).  You should see the three stars in a row that mark Orion’s belt.  If you find the belt, the two stars that make up his shoulders should be just above  and the three stars that are his head will be a little above that.  Hanging from Orion’s belt is a sword, another three stars going down this time.  Below the sword there will be two more very bright stars that mark Orion’s legs.  The star that marks Orion’s shoulder on the East is Betelgeuse, the one on the West is Bellatrix.  The leg below Betelgeuse is Saiph, the leg below Bellatrix is Rigel. Take a close look at Betelgeuse.  If you’ve got them use binoculars.  What color is it?  Look at Rigel.  What color is it?orion

Look at Orion’s belt.  Use his belt as pointers and look to the West.  You should see what looks like a letter V.  That V reminded the folks who gave the constellations their names of the smiling face on a bull when he’s getting ready to charge.  The brighter star at the top of the V on the left is Aldebaran.  Now look a little further to the West (right) and see if you can find the little cluster of stars that make up the asterism called the Pleiades.  That marks the shoulder of the bull.

Back to Orion again.   We followed the three stars of Orion’s belt to the West to find Taurus.  Go the other way, about the same distance and you’ll see a very bright star.  That’s Sirius.  How does it compare in brightness to Jupiter high up above it?  Sirius is the Dog Star so it must be part of the Big Dog or as astronomers like to call it, Canis  Major.  If you look carefully you should be able to make out the dog’s nose, back, front and back legs and it’s droopy tail.

Where there’s a Big Dog there must be a Little Dog, so look higher in the sky until you find two fairly bright stars all by themselves.  The brighter of the two is Procyon.  Don’t be fooled by going too far and finding the Gemini brothers.  If you’re not sure which is which, the brothers should have stick figure bodies, the dog is just two stars.  Another way to find the Little Dog is to first find the Gemini and then go from Pollux’s head to his arm and on to Canis Minor.

The next constellation to try to find should be almost directly over your head.  There will be five fairly bright stars that make up a pentagon (five sided figure).  That’s Auriga the Shepard.  The very bright star at the top of the constellation is Capella the mother goat and if you look very closely you should see her three kids right beside her.

A little above Orion and just to the East there will be two stars that look almost alike.  Those are the Gemini brothers, Pollux and Castor.  Pollux is on the East, Castor is on the West.  See if you can find the stick figures that make up their bodies.

We’re up to 12 constellations now and 12 bright stars.  If you can find all of those in the night sky, you’ve learned more than enough to pass the test.  If you’re still having trouble, practice on Stellarium and I’ll explain how to find a few more constellations in a future blog.


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Mike Francis Stars Science Theater

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