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Print

Stargazing: Catching the starry dolphin

September 07, 2012 at 12:33 PM

Gatehouse News Service

The other evening I was reminded by the subject matter I wished to explore for this edition of Looking Up.

Inspired by the sky?

Actually I was reminded at church, where two children had just completed their class.

They were playing with two inflatable dolphins!

That’s was it! Once home I looked up at the night sky, awash with moonlight but punctuated with the glow of the brighter stars.

There was my subject, the marvelous constellation of the Dolphin.

It’s known in Latin as Delphinus.

You could call it “Flipper” if you want; it sure doesn’t matter to the stars.

If those brilliant globes of gas lit by nuclear fusion we know as stars only knew in return, what an active imagination those earthlings have!

The stars might be complimented or at least amused to think how we find pleasure and comfort in connecting them into stick figures in the sky like some connect-the-dot picture, and give each star amazing names like Sualocin or Rotanev.

The dolphin figure has also been imagined as Job’s Coffin.The Chinese pictured it as a tortoise.

Two U.S. Navy ships have been named after Delphinus.¨

The Dolphin does not have any bright stars, but they are so nearly packed together, they are easily recognized.

Its principal stars form a four-star, squat parallelogram, which makes up the body of the supposed dolphin, and a fifth star marking the tail.

This little figure, as seen from the Northern Hemisphere, seem to have the dolphin’s nose pointing east, as it “swims” backward, moving east to west across the sky as do all the stars with the turning of the Earth.

On a late summer evening you can find the Dolphin high in the southeast, left of the bright star Altair (which is the “eye” of the constellation Aquilia the Eagle) and below the Milky Way Band.

In the midst of the Milky Way, above the Dolphin is the familiar cross shape of Cygnus the Swan - its top star is the brightest, known as Deneb.

To the right of the Swan is the very bright star, Vega, the luminary of the small constellation Lyra the Harp.

Back to our porpoise.

Delphinus was one of the 48 constellations listed by the second-century astronomer Ptolmey.

It is surrounded by a few other small and dim constellations, each worthy its own story: Sagitta the Arrow, Vulpecula the Fox and Equuleus, the Little Horse.

The brightest star in Delphinus, Beta Delphini, or Rotanev, is 97 light years from the sun - it takes that many years for its light to reach us.

The star is a close double star and shines at magnitude +3.6.

Usually the Alpha star in each constellation is the brightest, but in this case, Alpha Delphini, called Sualocin, is a hair dimmer, at +3.8. This blue-white star is a lot further, 241 light years away.

Another star, Gamma Delphini, is a beautiful double star as seen in a small telescope. The two stars both appear in shades of yellow.

This star marks the Dolphin’s snout.

The ancient Greeks have mythological stories behind many of our constellations.

One story has a dolphin saving the life of Greek poet Arion of Lesbos, a wealthy court musician.

On board a ship, the crew wanted to rob him and kill him.

They first let him sing a song.

While doing so he leaped overboard, where a dolphin saved him.

This dolphin was immortalized with a constellation.

Send your notes to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and please mention where you read this column.

New moon is Sept. 15.

Keep looking up!

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