Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Friday! We’ve made it through another week. Here’s to you for getting through.
Here in the US, it’s a big weekend. Sunday is the… the… big game…. I don’t want to get on the wrong side of Big Football, Inc., so, let’s call it the Superb Owl… yeah…
I’m no football fan, though. Sports has always been kind of a tough thing for me, though I love baseball. I could never muster the excitement for the game, or really any games, that I always felt I should. I remember going to a party many years ago, with the guacamole and the big sandwich and the game on TV, and not watching at all. It’s just not my thing. Maybe you always kind of felt like an outcast at these sorts of things, too.
You’re not alone, though. It can really be rough having no interest at all while everyone else in the country does, while they seem to be in on something that you’re not.
So, if you’re not interested in the game, here are a few things you can look for in the sky when you’re not watching the game. Maybe grab a friend and step outside. Let’s have our own thing, the Internet Superb Owl Weekend Star Party!
As an aside, I’m going through some of my old CD collection and happen to have the Police’s first album, “Outlandos d’Amour” on while I write this. That’s the one with “So Lonely,” “Roxanne,” and “Can’t Stand Losing You.” If you haven’t heard it in a while, do yourself a favor.
Okay, here’s some things to look for in Sunday’s skies, in no particular order. Anything else we should add to the list?
- The waxing gibbous Moon: I love the moon no matter what phase it’s in, but these days just before it’s full are some of the best to see it. It’s bright. It’s high. It’s big. What’s great, though is the sun is still hitting it from a side angle, so if you look close, you can see shadows. You can see mountains. If you have even a small pair of binoculars, you can see it’s not a flat disc, a dish in the sky. It’s a sphere, it’s own world. Sunday night, the moon will be about 70% full, a great time to catch it.
- Aldebaran: The brightest star in the constellation Taurus the bull is one of my favorites. I’m color blind, but even to my eyes, it’s one of the few whose color I can easily pick out from all the rest. Its orange glow is something I look forward to every time it shows up in the fall, and every night through winter. It’s relatively close, only 65 light years away, but imagine being able to put out enough light to be able to carry color that far. Sunday night, the moon will be very close. You can use it to find Aldebaran, which will be the closest bright star. If you notice, Aldebaran is among a small V-shaped asterism. That’s the Hyades cluster, which we’ll talk about a bit next week.
- Mars & Venus: Our two closest planetary neighbors are still bright in the west just after kickoff. They’ve been hanging out with each other for some time, and are currently in the constellation Pisces. They’ll set fairly early, but it’s a great time to catch them nonetheless. If you have a small telescope or a really good pair of binoculars, you can see that Venus is in its crescent phase. You read that right, Venus (and Mercury, for that matter) goes through phases, like the moon does.
- Regulus: Have I ever told you how much I love Regulus? The Little King, the brightest star in Leo, the lion, is sort of the groundhog of stars. It’s one of the first spring stars to show its face in mid-winter’s sky, with the other two in the often-overlooked Spring Triangle (anyone know them?) a few hours behind. When I see it for the first time, I know spring is right around the corner. Look for it low in the east around 8:00, and getting higher as the night goes on. Regulus is actually four stars, in two pairs. Though, from here it looks like just the one.
- Deneb: Would you believe me if I told you one of the brightest stars of summer is still making noise here in the depths of winter? Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus the swan, knows where the nachos are. You can find it low in the northwest just after sunset. If you catch it just right, you can see some of the bright Northern Cross, and use it to help you be sure you’re seeing Deneb. Deneb’s one of the farthest stars you can see with the naked eye, with some estimates putting it over 2,000 light years away.
- Alnilam: While we’re talking about very distant stars, the middle star in Orion’s belt is also about 2,000 light years away. In fact, all of Orion’s big seven are pretty far, but Alnilam’s the farthest.
Enjoy the weekend, have fun, and let me know how you do. Clear skies everyone!