Hamal, Sheratan, and the letter J!

Hey, Sky Fans!

You know, when I write my astronomy stuff, I’m often writing to myself, not just you, and kind of working through the things that I want to see and learn more about. Last night, I headed out to find Uranus {insert joke here}, and I have to admit, it was tougher to see than I expected it would be. I saw a couple of things that could be it, but I’m not sure.

That’s the fun of this, though. Tonight, if the clouds hold out, we can head out and do things the same way that William Herschel did 240 years ago, when he scanned the skies night after night to see if that strange thing he saw out there moved relative to the background stars. Did you know he wanted to call it Georgium Sidus (George’s Star), after King George III, who was helping him pay the bills? I like the idea of that planet being simply called George. It has a moon named Margaret, so why not?

Did you look last night, too?

If you did, did you happen to see that snazzy wave of stars hanging around; a well-trimmed eyebrow over Mars?

There’s no boundary lines on my sky, so I’m not sure, but I think Mars is hanging around in the constellation Cetus, the whale or sea monster. Those few stars near Mars, though are a group that I’m more used to seeing a couple of months from now, in March.

They’re the stars of the zodiac constellation, Aries, the ram. Here, check it out:

Look for Hamal, Sheratan, and the stars of Aries near Mars tonight!

Weird lighting there. Sorry about that.

Aries’s brightest star is the off-brand Hamal, whose name comes to us from an Arabic word that means the Ram’s head. Its light has been streaming toward your eye for about 65 years, so it’s about as far away as Aldebaran, over in Taurus. Hamal’s one of my favorites; it’s about the same brightness as the much more famous Polaris, the north star, but no one ever really thinks much about it. Polaris, though, is something like 450 light years away, so up close, it’s much bigger and brighter than Hamal is. But if you look at Hamal for a while, there’s a certain softness about that I love. It’s weird but you can almost tell that the two stars are different and Hamal is humbler. You’ll see.

It’s also an interesting star historically because it used to be near where the Sun was at the vernal equinox. I forgot about that last part there until I read it when I checked Wikipedia to make sure I was right about Hamal’s distance.

Then, just a bit to the west, toward Hamal’s left… ish, is Sheratan, named for the hotel… nope, that’s not right. Then there are a couple of other, dimmer stars to each side.

Together, this whole group makes for a really a really pleasant sight. It doesn’t look like much more than a letter J or maybe a hockey stick. It certainly doesn’t look like a ram, but it’s one of those groups that always makes me smile when I see it. There’s an understated softness and simplicity about them, like the letter J itself, and it always makes me smile, and often surprises me. I guess this is where this website becomes a Sesame Street episode.

I hope you’ll head out tonight and track these stars down. Clear skies, everyone!


  1. A few years back, I made a concerted effort to find Uranus, in part because I wanted to play into the jokes. But I don’t have William Herschel’s patience. I’m pretty sure I had my telescope pointed in the right direction, but I’ll never know if I saw the planet or not. It’s a magnitude 5 or 6 object, and it blends in so easily with the all the magnitude 5 and 6 stars around it.

    Liked by 1 person

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