Hey, Sky Fans! Well, here we are, pretty into fall, a time of change. It’s the last full week of October now. Above everything else, the World Series has started here in the US. I’m not a religious man, but I am a baseball fan, so October, especially this week, is a pretty festive time.
Considering how much of the lives of everyone I know is bogged down by the presidential campaign, it’ll be a very welcome break. I have a beer at my side, so thick and dark that not even light can escape, ready to get me through. Either way the Series goes, it’ll have been a lifetime since the last time either of these teams won. Either way you can’t lose… you know, unless you happen to be a Cubs or Indians fan. So, here’s to being a fan of one of the teams that didn’t even make it out of the parking lot this year.
I’ve always loved the way baseball sort of arrives quietly in February or March, with snow still on the roof, and trees still bare, when spring training starts. The stars of winter, Sirius, Aldebaran, Rigel, Betelgeuse and the rest are still high in the skies to the south.
Then, an eternity later, after the hot dogs are gone and the trees are becoming bare again, with one last pitch and a pile of grown men in the middle of the diamond, it all ends with the abruptness of a cannonball into a shockingly cold pool. With that last pitch, the sports world is handed off to hockey, football, basketball. I’m not a fan of those, so it’s a great time to turn away and look at other things, to look up.
The last few days have been windy, dark and rainy around here, great days for staying inside with some extra soup, but not for watching the skies. My plans to go out with my older daughter to see the Orionids turned into a disappointing night watching Happy Days reruns and getting a little extra sleep. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Potsie carried that show.
Last night, though, the skies cleared. It was breezy and, to one extent or another, cold. The skies, though, were as dry and open as I can remember them being in months, and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset with the planet Venus punctuating the sky, a glowing decimal point in the fiery orange. Venus has been in the evening’s skies for a while now, after it met up with Jupiter during the summer, silently waiting for its moment. Lately it’s been escaping from the Sun’s glare, and rising higher, farther into the evenings’ southern skies.
Later in the evening, on a trip outside with a bag of trash, I stood in the cold, and watched a couple of satellites glide overhead, weaving between some lingering clouds. Familiar places started to jump out of the black.
Since about the time baseball hit its stride and the warm, sticky air settled in, the skies have been dominated by the Summer Triangle, the giant asterism with three bright stars at its corners. Now, though, it’s starting to show its age. It’s angling more toward the west with Vega racing ahead of Altair and Deneb toward the horizon. It’s interesting and disorienting to see it like this, upside down and on the wrong side of the sky. It won’t be long until they vanish.
Vega is opposite in the sky from Sirius, one of the gems of the Winter Circle, the brightest star in the entire night sky. So, when the Summer Triangle sinks into the west, it hands the night off to the Winter Circle, which joins us from the east. Sirius is usually the last of the Winter Circle’s stars to join the fun.
With a quick turn toward the north, Cassiopeia and the stars of Andromeda stretched high across the sky toward the east. Andromeda’s giant galaxy was there, hidden in plain sight by suburban light pollution as it screams toward us, a lunar distance every hour. It’ll get here soon enough.
Below it, just above the trees, as it always is during the press conferences and the World Series workouts, was the Pleiades. As short-sleeved jerseys give way to baseball players in thermal undershirts and turtlenecks, blowing on their hands just to be able to grip the seams, the Seven Sisters appear above the houses across the street. It’s easily one of the best naked-eye objects there is, and it’s truly spectacular if you can see them through binoculars, like dusty diamonds spilled across velvet. Behind it, lower still, Capella, the bright and giant star in the constellation Auriga and Aldebaran, recently-occulted, in Taurus.
I stood watching for a bit, when I heard the door to my house squeak closed. A few seconds later, “Pleiades?” My daughter asked, giving me one last hug before bed. It wasn’t long ago than this was past her bed time.
It’s these transitions, slow, quiet, and reliable, that always get me. Astronomy’s, possibly, the slowest of the slow passions. Few things happen from one day to the next, but over time, the changes are amazing. If you have a few minutes between innings, now’s a great time to go and have a look. Clear skies, everyone! Thanks, as always, for stopping by, and Cubs in six!