Menkar (and, What Is That Thing?)!

Hey, Sky Fans! Welcome back. We’ve had some good skies lately, so I’ve been spending more time outside over the last couple of weeks than I have all winter. The other night, I grabbed this photo of the western skies:

The West, about 9:30 PM, March 5, 2017
The West, about 9:30 PM, March 5, 2017

Not bad, right? You can click the caption if you want to see the giagantificationalized version. That’s using my little Canon PowerShot Elph sat on a tripod and set to ISO400 for 15 seconds-worth of time-stopping and photon gathering; as long an exposure as the camera can do. Give it a break. It’s a tiny thing. It does its best.

Here’s the same photo again. I have this Groupon for some sky writing, so I used it and had them note a bunch of stuff. Pleiades, Hyades, a couple of Orion’s hot shots. I’m not sure, but I think the bright thing in the middle is the moon. In its glare, you can see what I’ve come to call Meissa’s Asterism, which we talked about last week.

The West, around 9:30PM March 5, 2017, after the sky writer left
The West, around 9:30PM March 5, 2017, after the sky writer left

It was a gorgeous night. Down toward the bottom right, there’s something strange. There’s a greenish glow, or smudge or something; the one right next to the ?????. That’s kind of in the borderlands between Taurus, above, and Cetus, the whale, below. Menkar, the bottom-most labeled thing, is the phlegmatic whale’s nose, and Cetus’s alpha star. It’s a terrific off-brand star whose name comes from the Arabic word for nostril (now, tell a friend!).

Here’s a closeup on that zone, taken from Stellarium:

Closeup of Above, from Stellarium
Closeup of Above, from Stellarium

There’s Menkar and that sort of up-and-to-the-right arc of stars that marks Taurus’s leg. Between them, a whole lot of nothing. You can barely see it, but a little bit of the way downward from that bright star at the bottom of the leg, but not quite half way to Menkar, is a tiny little thing.

That’s a double star called HIP15304, according to Stellarium. Is that what the mystery thing is? Why would be it be green and cloudy? Either way, I have a tough time thinking a $50 camera could grab something like that or split a double star. I bet the fine people at 15304 didn’t expect to open the paper and see their names in the news today.

A comet? Maybe, but I couldn’t find going on in that part of the sky. Is it just an artifact of the moon’s glow? Have people from  TRAPPIST-1c finally gotten here?

Do you have any idea what it is? I’d love to hear if you do. I love mysteries like these.

Clear skies, everyone!



3 thoughts on “Menkar (and, What Is That Thing?)!

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