Answer the quiz, you might win a free star chart
Here’s your opportunity to win a rotating star map, which shows the evening sky for different seasons and will aid you in identifying the constellations. We did this a few years ago, and we had numerous responses.
The star chart is a “planisphere” containing a disc with all the constellations printed, and the North Star right by the center. An outer covering has a large window to show the sky for any night of the year. By turning the disc, lining up the dates with hours of the night, you can set the chart for the date and hour you want to see.
No, you won’t get on any mailing list, and all we will mention in print if you win is your name and general location (no specific address).
1. Name the closest star system to the sun.
2. Which winter constellation is known for its three stars making up its “belt’?
3. Who was the Italian astronomer in the early 1600’s who was the first to use a telescope to study the sky?
4. Which planet has a moon with rain and seas of liquid methane?
5. Name the first man to walk on the moon, and the date it happened.
6. A telescope that works with mirrors is what type?
7. What sort of sky conditions are best to see the Milky Way Band?
8. Name the famous galaxy that is so bright it may be seen with unaided eyes.
9. Name one of the moons of Jupiter.
10. Which north sky constellation is shaped like a “W” or “M” depending which way you see it?
Feel free to look up the answers!
Change clock, see stars sooner
Sunday morning we went through the seasonal ritual of changing the clocks. A good thing about changing the clock back an hour is we get an extra hour to stargaze. You thought I’d say “sleep,” didn’t you?!
This coming week about 8 p.m. EST, face due south. Hopefully it is clear out. The bright star Fomalhaut will be on the central meridian - the imaginary line from the due south point passing overhead and down to the due north point. In the north, the star Polaris, the North Star, is always very close if not right on the central meridian. That’s because the whole sky seems to rotate around a point right next to the North Star, so it is practically stationary on the celestial dome above us.
Fomalhaut is a bluish star, magnitude 1.3. Among the brightest stars, it seems especially bright because it contrasts with the otherwise rather dim field of stars in this part of the heavens. It is also called Alpha Pisces Austrini, the brightest star in the constellation Pisces Austrinus, the Southern Fish. The outline of this constellation usually places Fomalhaut as the fish’s eye.
This star also have a faint stellar companion orbiting the brighter one, but is only seen in a large telescope.
Above, or north of Fomalhaut, is the “water jug” of the constellation Aquarius. Last week’s column explained how to locate the planet Uranus, which is easily seen in binoculars and passing through this group.
Two other imaginary lines pass through in this part of the sky. The celestial equator circles the sky and is the counterpart of the Earth’s equatorial line. If you were in the Amazonian jungle of Brazil on the equator, and looked straight up at night, you’d see either a canopy of lush tropical growth and may be hit by a banana tossed by a monkey, or if you are in the open, you’d be looking right up at the celestial equator. The North Star would be right on the north horizon.
The other imaginary line is the ecliptic, which is the path the sun seems to travel as we circle around it. The moon and most of the planets never stray far from that line in what is referred to as the ecliptic band. Because the Earth is tilted on its axis of rotation, which gives us the seasons, the celestial equator and ecliptic are not one and the same; they cross each other in two places on the sky, called the autumnal equinox and spring equinox. That’s where the sun arrives on the first day of autumn and first day of spring, respectively.
The spring equinox is in the constellation Pisces, which lies just left of Aquarius. Five thousand years ago the situation was quite different. In that era, the winter solstice - where the sun arrives on the first day of winter - was immediately north of Fomalhaut, on the ecliptic line in Aquarius. Today the low winter sun on the first day of winter is about a quarter way around the sky, in Sagittarius. The change occurs because the Earth very slowly wobbles in its axis of spin. Over thousands of years, that axis points at a different part of the north sky, and other stars receive the status of being the “North Star” for being the brightest naked eye star close to that point.
If all this makes your own head spin, don’t let it and just enjoy the night sky. The constellations become “familiar friends” that return year after year and are meant to be a pleasure to learn and point out.
Keep looking up!