Hey, Sky Fans!
What, as they say, is going on? Fall’s upon us at long last, and my apologies for being so quiet lately. It’s been… well, you know how it’s been. I hope you’re holding together.
The other night, I was outside and noticed something I hadn’t seen in a while: stars. As I stood there, frustrating the dog (she had other things on her mind), things overhead were just stunning. I realized I’d only seen Jupiter a couple of times since it was at opposition this summer. And Saturn, too.
When I got home, I grabbed my super high-tech astrophotography rig — an old Canon Powershot on a backpacker’s tripod — and snapped this photo.
Maybe this’ll help. Labels… on!
That, like the caption says, is Jupiter and Saturn hanging out with the dim stars of Capricornus, cordoning that weird sea goat thing off from the rest of the sky like bar lines on an enormous piece of sheet music. I bet sea goats were everywhere back when the ancients were around, but they’ve gone extinct… Right? Sure, that makes sense.
These stars are all pretty dim and unfamous (infamous?). Really, when was the last time you heard someone say anything about any of the stars in Capricornus? Before you looked at that photo above could you name any?
That whole patch of sky there, with Capricornus, Aquarius (the water bearer), Cetus (the seamonster), Piscis Austrinus (the southern fish) and Pisces (the directionally agnostic fish) and some other watery stuff is really dim and empty; flat like an ocean on a dark and still night. These constellations are all little odd (again: seagoat), with very few even moderately bright stars and only one firstie out of them all. That’s the gorgeous Fomalhaut, in Piscis Austrinus.
Under suburban and city skies, there’s really not much to see. High five, light pollution! Am I right? Booya! But here, that night, those two planets highlighted and gave us a great chance to add Capricornus to our collection of constellations we’ve seen.
Let’s zoom in on this part of the sky for a bit, though.
As I’m sure you’ve picked up, I’m a really exciting and interesting guy. Like I like to say, my favorite flavor of ice cream is plain. I’m also nothing if not a sucker for simple geometric shapes. As if the straight line between Deneb Algedi and Nashira wasn’t enough, add in Jupiter and it’s a triangle!
But what about those stars?
Deneb Algedi’s about twice the size of the Sun and about 40 light years behind Jupiter in that photo. That name, Deneb is pretty common in stars’ names. Off the top of my head, there’s Deneb (in Cygnus), Deneb Kaitos (in Cetus), Deneb Algedi, Deneb Okab (Aquila), and even Denebola (in Leo).
That word comes from Arabic, as so man star names do, and means “tail.” So, Deneb Algedi means something along the lines of Goat’s Tail. I’ve always thought it really interesting that people named all these groups of stars after animals, after things in their every day lives, and the same themes pop up over and over. Add in that this whole section of sky is named for watery creatures, and it’s fun to put together where the ancients’ heads were.
Then next to it is Nashira, a giant star another 100 light years behind Deneb Algedi. its name means “bearer of good news,” again from Arabic. I’ve always loved the optimism in that name, and for me, fall, this time of year is its own nashira (I hope I’m using that right). So, the timing is just right.
From us naked-eye folks here on Earth, though, these aren’t really interesting a stars. They’re third-magnitude, which is about the limit around where I live for that part of the sky, and they’re just… there.
But, on the other hand, maybe they bring a certain understated softness to that part of sky. Just above the horizon, with not much else happening other than branches and shingles. I’m fortunate that I can see these stars at all, and the empty, negative space, not-ness of that patch of sky somehow always smooths out tough days. I love when these stars come along every fall.
Jupiter’s going to be hanging out in that pat of the sky for a while, still, so now’s your chance. Plus, if you have a pair of binoculars, you can see Jupiter’s four giant moons, too. I hope you’ll give it a shot.
Thanks for stopping by, here’s hoping these stars bring you some good news. Clear skies, everyone!