A guide for what’s coming up this month. I tried to include a fact and a lesser-known story for each object. I didn’t completely succeed. This guide is written to give hints to people who already know approximately what they’re looking at. For a good beginner’s guide to the sky, try StarDate, Sky and Telescope’s Stargazing Basics, or Sky and Telescope’s links to lots of beginning topics. (Or, if you know a better beginning stargazing site, put a link to it in a comment below!
ANDROMEDA – Princess Andromeda
Alpheratz is the star that connects Pegasus to Andromeda.
The Andromeda Galaxy is located in the constellation of Andromeda. It’s 2.2 million light years away, and the furthest thing you can see with your eyes. Period.
MYTH: Saudi Arabians called Andromeda “the sea lion”.
PEGASUS – The Winged Horse
Alpheratz is the star that connects Pegasus to Andromeda.
MYTH: The Greek Myth of Pegasus is long, complicated, and involves 6 constellations in the night sky. Queen Cassiopeia and King Cepheus weren’t all that great at being king and queen. Stuff happened, and they decided to sacrifice their daughter Andromeda to the sea monster Cetus. Perseus, returning from slaying Medusa, was riding on the back of Pegasus, who sprang from Medusa’s neck. Perseus killed Cetus, rescued Andromeda, and they lived happily ever after.
CEPHEUS – King Cepheus
Delta Cephei is a variable star, a whole type of variables are named after it.
Delta Cephei (Cepheid) variables are really useful stars. You can use them to judge distance, since the time between pulses is directly related to how bright the star actually is (the period-luminosity relationship).
MYTH: More of the Cassiopeia stuff.
PERSEUS – Perseus
The Perseid Meteor Shower (Perseids) will appear to radiate out of the constellation Perseus. This point is called the “radiant.”
MYTH: The Tale of the Hungry Skunk, A story about Auriga and Perseus: Salish tribe of the high plateau country of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Once, when darkness was marching across the sky, the women of the sky country were preparing the evening meal. The men, who were sky fisherman, would be hungry when they returned and they were due home soon.
The women had built a large pit and placed some roots on hot rocks where the roots began to steam. A skunk smelled the cooking roots and followed the scent to see if it could get an easy meal.
It wasn’t long before the skunk found the village where the women were busy cooking and doing other evening chores. It walked toward the pit where the roots were steaming. A small child saw the skunk and asked his mother what that animal was. The mother screamed “Aieeee!”, grabbed her child, and ran away. Many of the other women soon did the same. But some of the women stayed behind to protect their hard work. They encircled the cooking pit and stared at the skunk. The skunk stopped and stood very still. It thought that if it stayed still long enough, perhaps the women would forget that it was there. The skunk is still in the sky, standing motionless, and the women are still standing around the pit, protecting their work.
(Sounds to me like Auriga is the circle of women, and Perseus is the skunk.)
SAGITTARIUS – The Centaur Archer
The center of our galaxy: if you see Sagittarius as a teapot, then the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way is right where the tea pouring out of the teapot would be.
MYTH: The Chinese see a dipper in Sagittarius. This dipper is part of the Black Tortoise. From: Chinese Constellations
CAPRICORNUS – The Sea Goat
This constellation is a decent-sized triangle. There aren’t really many interesting objects, and I can’t find any non-Greek myths. This is not my favorite constellation.
MYTH: Capricorn is a sea goat: half fish, half goat.
OPHIUCHUS – The Serpent Bearer
Ophiuchus is the 13th Zodiac constellation. It’s not part of the astrological zodiac, but it is along the ecliptic, and the sun spends a couple weeks passing through this constellation around November 30th through December 17th.
MYTH: Going for the gold? Find Serpens Caput (serpent’s head) and Serpens Cauda (serpent’s tail) beside either side of Ophiuchus to complete the story of the serpent bearer.
DELPHINUS – The Dolphin
In 1967 a nova went off in this constellation, and it could be seen with the naked eye. Now you need a telescope.
MYTH: The Chinese see this constellation as a gourd.
Don’t miss Jupiter in tonight’s sky!
Going for the Gold? Here’s this month’s itty-bittys.
SCUTUM – The Shield
CAMELOPARDALIS– The Giraffe
LACERTA – The Lizard
SERPENS CAPUT – Serpent Head
SERPENS CAUDA – Serpent Tail
EQUULEUS – The Little Horse
SAGITTA – The Arrow
VULPECA – The Fox
CANES VENATICI– The Hunting Dogs
I tried to include new stuff about most of these.
AQUILA – The Eagle
MYTH: The Japanese see Altair as a Cowboy and Vega as a Weaver girl. They are very much in love, but due to circumstances are separated – except for one day a year (the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar) the lovers get to be together, but only if it’s clear.
CYGNUS – The Swan or the Northern Cross
Albireo (the head star) is a beautiful double star
MYTH: To the Saudi Arabians, Cygnus was alternatively a hen or a swan. To the Chinese, the creature was a magpie.
LYRA – The Harp
Vega will be our North Star in about 14,000 years.
MYTH: to the natives of Bohemia, Lyra is “the fiddle in the sky”
SCORPIUS – The Scorpion
BOOTES – The Farmer
MYTH (From Zeta): This constellation is often seen as a grapevine (think “cluster of hanging grapes”).
CORONA BOREALIS – The Northern Crown
MYTH: The Housatonic Native Americans believed Corona was the cave home of Ursa Major.
HERCULES – Hercules
M13 Hercules Globular Cluster
Globular Clusters are gravitationally-bound groups of 1000s to 10s of 1000s of stars. They tend to be outside of the galactic plane, and are the oldest stars in a given galaxy.
URSA MAJOR – The Great Bear
URSA MINOR – The Little Bear
CASSIOPEIA – The Queen
MYTH: The Arabs also saw hand imagery in the constellation, referring to it as “the large hand stained with henna”. In viewing this constellation as a hand, each of the five prominent stars in it would represent a fingertip.
Happy Sky Viewing!