Monday, February 14, 2011
winter star-gazing: orion as a signpost
One of my favorite hobbies is star-gazing. I've always loved stars and the night sky, but it wasn't until sometime during high school that I actually developed the interest and set about to learn the constellations so that I might be able to "find my way around" so to speak. I can remember heading out to Flat rock with Dad, equipped with a pair of binoculars and an astronomy book. It was summertime so we stayed out for nearly an hour I imagine: hunting the cosmos and catching a glimpse of the occasional "shooting star". Later Matt, Brian and I would venture back to the lakeshore (to try and get away from the lights of town) to watch the constellations above Wabigoon Lake. There's a peaceful solace in watching the heavens.
So if you find yourself with a clear night and want to see a few winter constellations here's a few tips!
Click the following pictures and they'll open up larger in a new tab! (All pictures taken from Stellarium, which is awesome: http://www.stellarium.org/)
First, locate Orion the Hunter. He's a favorite and pretty easy to find. The above picture has him where he would be in the sky at about 8:30 in the evening. He'll be in the southern portion of the sky before midnight; closer to midnight he'll be further west and lower in the horizon. Orion is the key to locating other notable winter constellations. The belt points us to other parts of the sky, helping us pinpoint other constellations. Follow the line of the belt to the left and down slightly to what is likely the brightest star in the winter night sky. That star is called Sirius, the Dog Star. (Also the title of Sirius radio, and the reason why their symbol is a little dog with a star for an eye!) Sirius is called the Dog Star because it's the cheif star in the constellation: Canus Major, or the Great Dog!
Now, go back to Orion and follow the line of the belt stars to the right. The first stop is a group of stars which are usually identified as the face of Taurus, the Bull. The bright star, Aldebaran, is a red star—Taurus’ red eye. He’s squaring off against Orion. The next stop is a neat little grouping of stars called the Pleiades or Seven Sisters.
And there you have it! Using Orion as a signpost it can be really easy to spot some of winter’s best constellations.
There are a lot of great resources on astronomy and star-gazing out there. I have a few books and so I don’t know much about what sort of online content there is out there. One program that I do find really useful though is called Stellarium. It’s what I took the snapshots above from. It’s essentially a planetarium on your computer—and it’s free. Click here to check it out!
Stellarium also has really neat artwork of all the constellations too! (All rights theirs, obviously!)
Edit: Click here for Part 2 of our series of posts on winter star-gazing with Orion.