Today I want to remind you of what we did at our first class, star hopping. If you create a path in the sky from one constellation to the next, it’s a lot easier to learn all of the stars and constellations. Let’s start in the North with Ursa Major. You should be able to find it by now as soon as you look into the northern sky. Once you find the bear, pick out the part of the bear that looks like a big dipper. The two stars at the front of the dipper are Dubhe on the left and Merak on the right. Draw an imaginary line through the two stars heading north. After you’ve gone 5X the distance between Dubhe and Merak you should run into a star that will be due North. That’s Polaris or the North Star. Hanging off the North Star will be another dipper, smaller than the first one and that’s Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper.
Extend the line from Ursa Major to the North Star that same distance and you should find a big W or M. That’s Cassiopeia, the queen of the night sky. It actually looks a little like a chair or throne. Once you imagine the queen, look where she’s looking and you should see a large group of stars that look like a house. That’s the head and crown of the Cephus the King, who actually looks a lot like a block headed clown. Now you’ve found all of the easy constellations in the Northern sky.
Turn around and face South. The first thing you should see will be the three stars that make up the belt of Orion the Hunter. Above the belt are two very bright stars that look like they could be shoulders. Betelgeuse is on the left and Bellatrix is on the right. Above the shoulders are three rather faint stars right where Orion’s head should be. Below the belt are three bright stars that could be a sword and below those are two more very bright stars that would be his legs. Saiph is on the left and Rigel is on the right.
Imagine a line through Orion’s belt heading West and follow it until you run into a letter V, that’s the face of Taurus the Bull. Look up to where the bull’s horn should end and you’ll find a big pentagon of stars, that’s Auriga the Herdsman. He doesn’t look much like a shepherd, but if you find the brightest of the five stars, imagine that’s his goat with her three babies nearby. She’s a singing goat, but she doesn’t have a band so she sings “a cappella” and what is her name? Cappella.
If you were drawing a circle in the sky from Orion to Taurus to Auriga and kept going you would run into two very bright stars that look almost alike. That’s the twin brothers Pollux and Castor. The stick figures of their bodies are right between the brother stars and Auriga. Remember what the boys are doing? Walking the dogs. Follow Pollux’s arm to two more stars, one bright, one dim. That’s the little dog, Canis Minor and the brighter star is Procyon. If you have a little dog keep going down toward the horizon until you run into a very bright star, Sirius the Dog Star which is the eye of Canis Major. Want to make sure you’re in the right constellation, look at Orion’s belt and go the opposite way you went to find Taurus.
To find the next few constellations, look back up at Ursa Major. Follow the arc of the bear’s tail until you run into another bright star, Arcturus. Remember arc to Arcturus. That’s the star at the bottom of another shepherd Bootes, but I like to think of it as Bootes the Kite with the four stars that make up the long and short pieces of a kite. Keep on going past Arcturus until you run into another very bright star, Spica. So if you arc to Arcturus you can just speed on to Spica. Spica is a the end of the tail of a great big letter Y that will be rising up into the South.
Back to Ursa Major and Dubhe and Merak. Follow them the opposite way that you went to find the North Star and you’ll run into a great big backwards question mark. Nearby it to the East is a triangle and when you put the two figures together it looks just like a lion, Leo the Lion. Right in front of the lion’s head will be Jupiter, the brightest dot in the sky and Jupiter is sitting right in the middle of the constellation Cancer. If you’re wondering if you’re in the right place, Cancer is right between Leo and the Gemini.
If you can work you way through all of those steps, you’ve found more than enough constellations and stars to pass requirement 4 a & b. Practice doing this for the rest of the week on clear nights and you should have no trouble Saturday.
Let’s hope we get a clear night. Before 7:30 pm Mars should be visible in the West, if you don’t have trees in the way. If you can’t see it, try to find a place to look at the sky that has a clear view of the horizon. You may also be able to see Mercury and Venus very low on the horizon if there aren’t trees in the way. If you haven’t looked for it planets yet, get out there on our next clear night.
As soon as it gets good and dark look for Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. You should be looking into the North. Look for the four stars that make up the bowl of the dipper? Can you see the three or four stars that make up the dipper’s handle? The two stars at the front of the dipper are Dubhe (on your left) and Merak (on your right).
Now that you’ve found Ursa Major you can look for the other circum polar constellations. To find Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) use the pointer stars Dubhe and Merak, draw an imaginary line between them and continue it 5 times further towards the North. See a star there? That’s Polaris, the North Star. It’s right at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle or the little bear’s tail. Can you see the handle and the four stars that make up the bowl?
Keep your line going West about the same distance as the line from Ursa Major to Ursa Minor. Find the big W? That’s Cassiopia’s throne. If you find Cassiopia the Queen, King Cephus must be close by. Imagine the Queen sitting on her throne looking at the nearby stars to the right and you’ll see the four stars for Cephus’s head and the hat that looks like a clown hat.
Want to try another? Look right below Ursa Minor and see if you can find the head of Draco the dragon. It should be right on the horizon, so trees may make it impossible to find where you are. Do you see the dragon’s body? Good luck.
If you can find all five constellations, you’re half way to the number of constellations you need to learn.Every night when you go out, you should try to re-find these constellations and stars, so it becomes second nature.
Stars Science Theater