Hey sky fans! How’ve you been? Two weeks, just like that. It was a good, if busy break. I was able to check a lot of things off my list. Most of it, thankfully, was good stuff, and maybe I’ll have a little news to share before long.
Let’s get back to the fun. I’ve missed the writing, and my fingers are a little itchy. Yes, these are related problems. Come on.
Last week, we had some really hot, humid days. For a while the air was thick, heavy, and exhausting. As unpleasant as these days were, the heat kept the skies nice and clear, if just a little hazy. After the kids were done for the day, and the lunches were made, I headed outside with my binoculars to have a look at Jupiter, calling to me from the southeastern sky.
As I struggled to hold the lenses steady, I could see all four of Joops’s four giant moons. They were all neatly lined up along its equator; a couple on each side. I even convinced myself I could see those famous cloud bands. With a couple of anonymous stars off at the back end of the field of view, it was something I could have stared at for a long time. I gave it a good shot, too. I sat on the curb, and tried to use my knees as a tripod. It didn’t work for long. I’ll use a real tripod next time.
Jupiter’s in kind of an interesting part of the skies now. It’s spending most of this year in the constellation Virgo, which is… and I’m going from memory here… the second biggest after Hydra. Remember, constellations are regions of the sky, not the patterns of the stars within them. They have borders, are adjacent to each other, like African countries or Australian states, and cover the whole sky. The familiar star patterns within them are called asterisms.
I sometimes like to imagine the stars are cities, and the imaginary lines we’ve drawn in the patterns are the roads from one city to another on the greatest map in the galaxy. Scientifically accurate? Not a chance, but if you think of it like that, you get to say ridiculous and fun things like “The capital of Virgo is Spica.”
Over in that end of the sky are lots of exciting deep-sky objects. The Virgo Cluster of galaxies is out thataway so it’s kind of easy even with a pair of binoculars to see something just by scanning the skies. As my tired arms brought the lenses down from my eye, I sat and stared for a while; just enjoying the wide view, like I usually do.
Hiding behind the trees to the south was a odd, sort of rectangular grouping of stars sitting low in the sky, like it was hiding in the curtains. It was really more like a rectangle with a handle. That’s the same part of the sky that I always like looking toward in the summer, when Antares and the stars of Scorpius are there.
It took a little while, but then I remembered: Corvus!
Right next to one of the sky’s biggest constellations, the crow is one of the smallest, only 70th biggest of the 88 modern constellations. If you’re looking for a way to kind of move past the big, bright hotshot constellations, Corvus is a great choice. It’s only up and visible in the evenings for a relatively short time each year. It has no famous stars, and you really need to look for it to find it. Unlike the stars of Orion, Ursa Major or Cygnus, for example, it’s not going to jump out and look for you. You need to go track it down.
The good news is, with the naked eye, there isn’t a lot happening in that chunk of the sky. There aren’t a lot of bright stars there to complete with the modest brightness of Corvus’s stars. The galaxy clusters in the area are all hidden by the tremendous distances to them. Light pollution doesn’t help. What’s more, now, with Jupiter as a marker in the sky, it’s a great time to try and find it.
All you need to do is head out the next time you get a break from the clouds, and look for Jupiter. It’s high and brilliantly bright toward the southeast by mid-evening. The bright star nearby is Spica. Just follow the two farther toward the south, and lower in the sky to make a nice and snappy triangle with Algorab, which is about 85 light years away. Algorab is Corvus’s Delta star; it’s fourth brightest, but it’s probably the easiest to see.
It’s a neat little group of stars to look for and track down, and it’s one more in your pocket. I hope you’ll head out and have a look. Clear skies, and happy World Turtle Day, everyone!