A Superb Owl Star Party!

Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Friday! We’ve made it through another busy week. Here’s to you for getting through, especially with the weather being what it’s been.

It’s a big weekend here in the US. 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, and I’ve never been able to muster the excitement. 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. Maybe grab a friend and step outside. Let’s have our own thing, the third installment of the {booming radio voice} Internet Superb Owl Weekend Star Party!

Let’s start in the west and see if we can stay away from the usual suspects this time. Anything else we should add to the list?

  • Deneb (Tail #1): Would you believe me if I told you one of summer’s brightest stars is still making noise here in the middle of winter? Deneb, the tail of 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’ll see some of the Northern Cross, too. 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. Still, it stands out quite a bit against the dimming dusk. Think of how much light it must be pumping out to be so bright from so far.
    Look for Deneb toward the Northwest After Dark
    Look for Deneb toward the Northwest After Dark
  • Regulus (and Tail #2): 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 winter’s sky. 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. As the evening goes on, see if you can find Denebola, the middle-bright star that represents the lion’s tail.
    Regulus, Denebola, and Leo
    Regulus, Denebola, and Leo
  • Mars: Can you spot the red-orange planet Mars toward the southwest? It’s not nearly as bright as it was a few months ago, but it’s still quite a sight. If you have binoculars or a small telescope, maybe you can find Uranus hiding in the darkness.
  • The Sea Monster (and Tails #3, #4, and #5): Almost directly below Mars, low toward the horizon, is the off-brand Diphda, the brightest in the constellation Cetus. Depending on who you ask, Cetus is either a whale or a sea monster, and Diphda, which is sometimes called Deneb Kaitos, represents its tail. In case you haven’t guessed by now, the word deneb means tail, and comes from Arabic. There are a bunch of stars that have deneb in their name, the tail of this, or the tail of that. This seamonster actually has three deneb stars. Diphda/Deneb Kaitos is the brightest, but maybe — just maybe — you can also find Deneb Algenubi (southern tail) a bit above, and Deneb Kaitos Schemali (northern tail) to Diphda’s right. Kaitos is the same root as cetacean (a whale, dolphin or porpoise) and Cetus, so if you ask me it’s a whale. While we’re on the topic of these names, those suffixes “-algenubi” and “-schemali” might sound familiar, too. Stay tuned.
    Mars and the Challenging Stars of Cetus
    Mars and the Challenging Stars of Cetus
  • Whatever the Opposite Of the Center Of The Galaxy Is Called: High overhead in the Winter Hexagon, see if you can draw a line from bright yellow Capella (in Auriga) down to bright red Betelgeuse (in Orion). About halfway between them is the gorgeous second-magnitude Elnath, the second brightest in Taurus. It’s a really cool star if only for what it’s not. It’s not the center of the Milky Way. In fact, it’s very near the spot directly opposite the middle of the galaxy. It’s the way, way out. So, if you were to turn all the way around, and angle your head correctly, you’d be looking through the ground at the stars of the constellation Sagittarius, and in toward the center of the galaxy.
    Look for Elnath halfway between Capella and Betelgeuse
    Look for Elnath halfway between Capella and Betelgeuse

I’m not sure what’s up with all these tails either.

Enjoy the weekend, have fun, and let me know how you do. Clear skies everyone!

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