Category Archives: Learning the basics

How to find the Winter Hexagon

Introduction

Orion is the key for
cracking the winter sky

The winter sky is an excellent place to begin exploring the constellations that make up the night sky. Orion is the key, or signpost, for locating many of the other constellations in the winter sky. There are two convenient ways to locate all of the main constellations around Orion once Orion is located. Fortunately, Orion is easy to locate and well known to most people.

The first way is to follow lines made by pairs of stars in Orion. The second way is to locate the great winter hexagon of bright star around Orion.

The Constellations of the Winter Sky

If you live in the northern latitudes and you scan the sky from the southern horizon to the region overhead, you should be able to see the following constellations on a clear winter night: Orion the Hunter, Canis Major the Great Dog, Canis Minor the Little Dog, Taurus the Bull, Auriga the Charioteer, Gemini the Twins and the Pleiades star cluster. (See the map on the next page).

 In Greek mythology, Orion was a great hunter who eventually offended the gods, especially Apollo. Apollo tricked Artemis, the Goddess of the hunt, into shooting Orion on a bet. When she discovered that she had shot Orion, she quickly lifted him to the heavens and made him immortal, where he now hunts eternally with his two dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor. In front of him is his prey Taurus the Bull.

 The myths surrounding Auriga the Charioteer vary, but it is an ancient constellation dating back to at least to the Ancient Greeks. Some say Auriga invented the chariot and others that he trained horses for the best chariots.

 Gemini is a constellation made up of two stick figures known as the twins, Castor, who was a great horseman, and Pollux, who was a great boxer. According to one myth, Castor and Pollux (a.k.a. Polydeuces) were the sons of Zeus and Leda (from Leda and the Swan) and were hatched from an egg. Their sister was the beautiful Helen whose face launched a thousand ships to do battle in front the Trojan city of Troy.

Method 1: Using Pairs of Stars in Orion as a Guide

Finding Sirius and Canis Major

If you follow a line from the belt stars of Orion to the left and slightly down, you will come across a very bright star called Sirius, which is also known as the Dog Star. (See the arrows in the diagram to the right).

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky so it is hard to miss. Once you’ve located Sirius you can locate the other stars in the constellation Canis Major the Great Dog.

Finding Procyon and Canis Minor

Follow the a line from the shoulder stars of Orion to the left. The first bright star that you will come close to is Procyon, which resides in Canis Minor.

From there you should be able to see the other star that us easily visible. Together, the two stars make up the constellation Canis Minor, which is also known as the Little Dog. Along with Canis Major, Canis Minor follows Orion across the heavens on an eternal hunt.

Finding Aldebaran and Taurus

Following the belt stars to the right, you will pass just below the bright star Aldebaran and through the constellation Taurus, which is also known as the Bull.

Continuing on you will run across a fuzzy blur of stars closely grouped. These are the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters.

Finding Capella and Auriga

Follow the bottom most star on the left and the left most belt star upwards (going roughly over your head) and you will come across a very bright star called Capella. From Capella, you can follow the pentagon of brighter stars nearby that make up Auriga. Just below Capella, there is a triangle of stars known as ‘the kids’ as in goat babies.

Capella was one of the most important stars for navigation as it could be seen throughout most of the year from mid northern latitudes.

Finding the Twins Castor and Pollux

Follow a line from Rigel to Betelgeuse heading upwards and overhead. You will come to two rough sticks of stars that are headed by two brighter stars. This is the constellation Gemini, composed of the twins Pollux and Castor. Pollux is on the left and Castor is on the right.

Method 1: Using the Winter Hexagon Centered About Orion

If you look in around the sky centered on Orion, you should be able to see a rough hexagon of very bright stars. This is called the Winter Hexagon. Starting at Rigel, if you go counterclockwise by one, you end up at Aldebaran in Taurus. Go counterclockwise once more and you end up at Capella in Auriga. Go counterclockwise once more and you end up at the pair of stars Pollux and Castor in Gemini. Go counterclockwise once more and you end up at Procyon in Canis Minor. Finally, if you go counterclockwise once more you end up at Sirius in Canis Major.

Credits: http://www.science-teachers.com

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My Top 20 Guideposts in the Sky

Number

Common
Name

Constellation

Apparent
Magnitude

Spectral
Type

Luminosity
(Sun = 1)

Distance
(Light Years)

Radial
Velocity
(km / sec)

1 Sirius Canis Major -1.46 A1 26 8.7 -8
2 Canopus Carina -0.72 F0 15,000 310 +21
3 Alpha
Centauri
Centaurus -0.04 G2 1.7 4.3 -22
4 Arcturus Boötis 0.00 K2 115 36 -5
5 Vega Lyra 0.03 A0 52 25 -14
6 Capella Auriga 0.08 G8 F0 90 70 43 +30
7 Rigel Orion 0.12 B8 60,000 910 +21
8 Procyon Canis Minor 0.38 F5 7 11.4 -3
9 Achernar Eridanus 0.46 B5 400 85 +19
10 Betelgeux Orion 0.0 – 0.9 M2 105,000 v 640 +21
11 Agena Centaurus 0.61 B1 10,000 460 -11
12 Altair Aquila 0.77 A7 10 16.6 -26
13 Acrux Crux Australis 0.83 B1 3,200 360 -11
14 Aldebaran Taurus 0.85 K5 120 68 +54
15 Antares Scorpius 0.96 M1 7,500 330 -3
16 Spica Virgo 0.98 B1 2,100 260 +1
17 Pollux Gemini 1.14 K0 60 36 +3
18 Fomalhaut Piscis Australis 1.16 A3 13 22 +7
19 Deneb Cygnus 1.25 A2 70,000 1,800 -5
20 Becrux Crux Australis 1.25 B0 8,200 425 +20

Explanation

Number

This is a list of the 20 brightest stars as seen from the Earth (not including the Sun). The stars are numbered from 1 to 20 in sequence.

Common Name

This is the name by which the star is commonly known. The names are Greek, Latin or Arabic. This web site is based in London: stars not visible from London are in red.

Some examples of the names: Deneb is Latin for tail (because it marks the tail of The Swan – Cygnus); Antares is Greek for rival of Mars (because of its red colour); Aldebaran is Arabic for eye of the bull (because it marks the eye of The Bull – Taurus).

Constellation

A constellation is a star group (as seen from Earth) that the star is a part of. Constellations are human inventions. The stars in them appear in the same part of the sky but are, in fact, at different distances from us and not related to each other. Different cultures use different constellations. For more, read Astronomy and Astrology.

In the West, there are 88 recognised constellations; 48 of these date from Roman times and are known as the Classical Constellations. These include the 12 Zodiac constellations through which the Sun, Moon and planets always pass through. Constellations are always known by their Latin names.

Some examples: Canis Major means The Great Dog; Orion is The Hunter; Crux Australis means The Southern Cross.

Constellations are used by astronomers for convenience. We say that Sirius is in Canis Major rather than give its celestial coordinates.

Apparent Magnitude

Apparent Magnitude tells how bright the star is as seen from the Earth. The magnitude scale was devised by the Ancient Greeks. The brightest stars were called First Magnitude, the next brightest were called Second Magnitude, etc.

In modern times, the scale has been defined mathematically. A star of magnitude 1 is about 2.5 times brighter than a star of magnitude 2 which in turn is 2.5 times brighter than a star of magnitude 3. The brighter a star, the smaller its magnitude. Many stars are brighter than first magnitude. Some stars are so bright they have negative magnitudes. On this scale, Jupiter has a magnitude (at its brightest) of -2.6, Venus is at -4.4 and the Sun -27. The faintest stars visible to the naked eye are sixth magnitude. Pluto has a magnitude of +14, far too faint to be visible without a powerful telescope.

In the table it can be seen that Betelgeux varies its magnitude – some stars are variable in brightness.

The brightness of a star as seen from Earth depends on its intrinsic luminosity and its distance from Earth. A dim star may appear bright because it is close while a luminous star may appear faint because it is far away. This is why we say Apparent Magnitude.

Spectral Type

When starlight is passed through a prism, it splits into its constituent colours, like a rainbow. This is called the star’s Spectrum. Stellar spectra are crossed by dark lines. These lines give astronomers a lot of information about the star: temperature, luminosity, radius, magnetic properties, movement. Read The Electromagnetic Spectrum for more on spectra.

The Morgan-Keenan spectral classification

The Morgan-Keenan spectral classification (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stellar spectra are classified into types. These types are given letters. The spectral type series is a temperature series. Moving from the hottest stars to the coolest, the series of letters runs O, B, A, F, G, K, M.

Each spectral type is subdivided into ten numbers. For example, A0, A1, A2, up to A9. A0 is hotter than A1. The table below gives more information.

Spectral
Type

Colour

Surface
Temperature
(°C)

O

Blue >30,000

B

Blue-White 20,000

A

White 10,000

F

Yellow-White 7,000

G

Yellow 6,000

K

Orange 4,500

M

Red 3,000

Our Sun is a star of Spectral Type G2 with a surface temperature of around 6,000°C.

Luminosity

This tells us how much more energy and light the star gives off compared with the Sun. This is how bright the star really is once distance has been taken into account. There is a huge variety in the luminosity of the stars. At one extreme, the star Alpha Centauri is 1.7 times more luminous than the Sun. At the other extreme, Canopus is 15,000 times more luminous than our Sun.

Luminosity can be measured indirectly by combining the apparent brightness of a star with its distance. It can also sometimes be measured directly from the spectrum.

Distance

The distance of a star is given in Light Years. This is the distance covered by a light beam in one year. Light travels at 300,000 km per second (186,000 miles per second). In one year a beam of light will travel 9.4 million million km (5.9 million million miles). This enormous distance is a Light Year.

Many stellar distances can be measured directly by trigonometry. As the Earth moves around the Sun, the star appears to shift its position against more distant stars. This effect is called parallax. It is a tiny effect but can be measured. The amount of the parallax depends on the diameter of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun (just under 300 million km or 186 million miles) and the distance to the star. A star with a paralax of 1 second of arc (written 1″) is said to be at a distace of 1 Parsec. 1 Parsec is equal to 3.26 Light Years.

Other stars can have their luminosity measured by their spectra or by other properties. When this is compared to their apparent brightness, a distance can be calculated.

For more on astronomical distances look at The Scale Of The Universe.

Radial Velocity

This the velocity of the star relative to the Sun. Negative velocities denote a star moving towards the Solar System. Positive velocities are for stars moving away from us.

Radial velocity is easily measured by looking at the star’s spectrum. The lines on the spectrum are shifted to the blue end if the star is moving towards us (the so-called blue shift) and to the red end if the star is moving away from us (red shift). The amount of this shift depends on the relative velocity between us and the star.

Credits: http://www.krysstal.com/brightest.html

(heavenswithlamps.wordpress.com)

What is Starhopping?

The night sky is replete with so many wonders. These wonders need just our eyes to be seen. One way to become familiar with the beautiful night sky is by Star-hopping.

In this digital age we are so engrossed with our daily lives that we don’t get to feed our souls. The best way to find a perspective in our meaningless lives is to have a look at the great wonders of the night sky.

But…..if you are not familiar with the sky, your first experience would be just like gazing to a thousands of dots on a big, very big black roof. So to solve this we are going to learn star-hopping.

Star-hopping is a great technique to identify where stars are.

First of all you have to identify your guideposts, (stars which are bright enough to indicate where less brighter stars are)and then once you have found them, you start star hopping.

It’s the same as you jump, jump and jump.

Yeah, you jump with your feet but here you do it with your eyes. That’s why I call it “eye jump”

Benefits of Star hopping

Star-hopping really is awesome. Believe me finding even one constellation out of the 88 constellations or an asterism is purely fascinating. This allows you not only to recognize the patterns of constellations, but in the process….let it be even a life-time…..you’re also learning about star distances, star colours, ages and names.

“You’ll find that the whole of the night sky is an amazing mixture of space, time, history, science and world cultures. It’ll lead you off on all sorts of paths and you’ll learn things that will amaze others. Not to mention the basic reason – you’ll know what you’re looking at.”

 Credits: September 2008 issue of Sky at Night Magazine

Orion the hunter

(credit: NASA).

Orion, the Hunter

In our summer skies (Southern Hemisphere –Mauritius, in the Northern Hemiphere it is Winter), just have a look towards the west, you would find the three stars aligned – these three are the Orion’s belt. This is the easiest to find.

The two stars north of this are Orion’s shoulders. One of these is Betelgeuse (“BEETLE-juice”), which is a giant red star. The two brighter stars to the south are Orion, the hunter’s legs. The bright blue star is Rigel.

Ancient people used Orion to predict the seasons: If it appeared at midnight, the grapes were ready to harvest. If it appeared in the morning, summer was beginning. If it appeared in the evening, winter had arrived.
In the photo below, as we can see, we have already identified seven bright stars. Now taking them as guide-posts, we can find your way to other stars and constellations too. You just have to find your way to them by imagining your straight lines and gradually hopping from one star to another. Quite easy, you see.

seven bright stars in orion

Is it necessary to star hop to understand the sky?

We are living in the digital age of electronic star charts, easy planetarium softwares on our laptops, star apps on Ipads and stars in our palms or GO TO telescopes where with only a push of a button one can travel from the Lunar neighborhood to the far reaches of deep space in just a few seconds.

Orion-SkyQuest-Computerized-Dobsonian-Telescope

Despite all of this easily available technology, many star gazers and amateur astronomers prefer doing their night observing without the use of GO TO telescopes, and truely speaking star hopping is the best way to have a complete grip on the night sky.

So  go star-hopping, the night sky is waiting to be seen.

Big Bigger Biggest Small Smaller Smallest

Credits: IMAX movie Cosmic Voyage

Credits : POWERS OF TEN © 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC

Which is better? I am not saying about the  age-old visual quality or the Morgan Freeman’s low sound quality, but about the clarity of  explanation. I prefer the latter.

If you want the mind blowing experience of How BIG is Big and How SMALL is small,  then just visit this one, it’s the updated version.

P.S: Sometimes I ask myself : What are you doing here?

Asterisms : What? and List

Looking up and finding patterns in the stars is a pastime that’s as old as humanity. The constellations are rich with mythology that has been passed on for millennia.

The name for these unofficial constellations is “asterism.” Like constellations, asterisms have a long history. Some are regional, (this particular asterism list  is from Germany) while others are universally recognized. Some are ancient, while others are more modern. If you enjoy stargazing, you may even have a few of your own personal asterisms. So go and be creative in the night sky and have fun.

If you are willing to find these asterisms, my advice would be to use Stellarium, if you still haven’t downloaded it, go grab it for free. you just have to type in the stars names in the Search field, for example: “delta Ori”,”epsilon Ori” and “zeta Ori”. And then you could be able to identify the asterism”the belt of Orion”. Pretty easy, huh!


Table of Asterisms:

Beehive

Located in the constellation Cancer. It is an open star cluster, which is also called Praesepe or M44 and faintly visible to the naked eye.
With the stars gamma Can and delta Can it forms another asterisms called the Asses and the Manger.

Belt of Orion

is being formed by the stars delta Ori, epsilon Ori and zeta Ori; in Latin Amerika it is called the “Three Marys”.

Bier

is being built by the four stars alpha UMa, beta UMa, gamma UMa and delta UMa.

 

Big Dipper

most famous asterism. Formed by the following Stars of the Great Bear alpha UMa, beta UMa, gamma UMa, delta UMa, epsilon UMa, zeta UMa and eta UMa, it is often called “Wain” (Wagon) or “Charles’s Wain” because of its resemblance with it when the Dipper handle is thought to be the wagon tongue.

 

Bull of Poniatowski

A T-shaped asterism just east of gamma Oph; it is formed by the stars 66 Oph, 67 Oph, 68 Oph and 70 Oph

Circlet

the western fish; the circlet is formed by gamma Psc, b Psc, theta Psc, iota Psc, 19 Psc, lambda Psc and kappa Psc.

Coalsack

Actually this is not a true asterism, but a dark patch on the Milky Way, in the constellation Crux. By the African Bushmen it was called “Old Bag”.

Frederick’s Glory

is formed by iota And, kappa And, lambda And and psi And

Guardians of the Pole

just beta UMi and gamma UMi

Head of Cetus

presented by alpha Cet, gamma Cet, xi_2 Cet, mu Cet and lambda Cet

Heavenly G

nine bright stars forming a G-shaped group. Seven of these stars are of 1st magnitude. In order they are: Aldebaran (alpha Tau), Capella (alpha Aur), Castor (alpha Gem), Pollux (beta Gem), Procyon (alpha CMi), Sirius (alpha CMa), Rigel (beta Ori), Bellatrix (gamma Ori) and Betelgeuse (alpha Ori)

Hyades

open cluster; V-shaped group superposed on alpha Tau, gamma Tau, delta Tau and epsilon Tau

Hydra Head

build by delta Hya, epsilon Hya, zeta Hya, eta Hya, rho Hya and sigma Hya

Job’s Coffin

formed by the four stars alpha Del, beta Del, gamma Del and delta Del

Keystone

is formed by the epsilon Her, zeta Her, eta Her and pi Her

Kids

are called epsilon Aur, zeta Aur and eta Aur

Lozenge

build by the four stars beta Dra, gamma Dra, xi Dra and nu Dra

Milk Dipper

The following five members of the constallation Sagittarius can be interpreted as an inverted dipper in the Milky Way: zeta Sgr, tau Sgr, sigma Sgr, phi Sgr and lambda Sgr. This asterism is also known as The Teapot.

Northern Cross

is formed by the leading stars of the constellation Cygnus: alpha Cyg, beta Cyg, gamma Cyg, delta Cyg and epsilon Cyg

Northern Fly

This is a small triangle over the rear of Aries

Pleiades

Located in the constellation Taurus. This open star cluster is one of the Messier objects, M45. It also known as Seven Sisters or, in Latin America the Seven Little Goats

Segment of Perseus

the stars eta Per, gamma Per, alpha Per, delta Per, epsilon Per and zeta Per forming an arc.

Sickle

formed by alpha Leo, eta Leo, gamma Leo, zeta Leo, mu Leo and epsilon Leo

Square of Pegasus

At the edges of that square you find alpa Peg, beta Peg, gamma Peg and alpha And

Sword of Orion

theta Ori and iota Ori; between them the famous Orion Nebula (M42) is located.

Venus Mirror

also on Orion; the belt stars (delta Ori, epsilon Ori and zeta Ori), the sword and eta Ori build up this asterism. The sword forms the handle of the diamond-shaped mirror.

Y of Aquarius

also called Water Jar; the Y is build by gamma Aqr, eta Aqr, pi Aqr and zeta Aqr

Eyes on the Sky: March 19 thru March 25

Those worlds (Stars) in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth.

Carl Sagan: Journeys in Space and Time [Episode 8]

Stars countless as all the grains of sand

To discover all the stars and all the celestial objects would be a one man’s impossible feat especially during one’s short life-span. Yet, there is so much to see in the sky through our naked eyes  that we really fail to appreciate  this obviously marvellous  view. (Only there should be “eyes”  to see. We are living in an era where though we have eyes but we can’t “see”.) The night sky  is a natural 3D paradise for the casual night star-gazer. However, for the enthusiasts the naked eyes don’t quench their  thirst, so they look for more. As such, there are interesting tools to see the night sky : Binoculars, telescopes, binoscopes, backyard observatories, real observatories, satellite telescopes  etc.

But for the small, amateur, layman sky gazer what is there for them to appreciate?

To get the best of what’s up and what’s really gorgeous  to see, one should be educated to do so. So, in my opinion, the best of all vodcasts on what to find up there, I chose among the best to help you…and me too….for your viewing ecstasy. I  am really thankful to David Fuller of Eyesonthesky.com for presenting these vodcasts and kindly allowing me to post on my blog too.These vodcasts  are broadcast from the Northern hemisphere, but if you watch carefully you would obviously be able to find your way out in our part of the world too.  As such,  I will be regularly posting…. hope so…… the vodcasts  weekly to help you out viewing the night sky. As it is already mid-March I am posting our first vodcast for all my readers and viewers.

How to get the whole picture of where to start?

If you are the types who really don’t get what is happening  when Dave is talking about Messiers, asteroids, meteors, deep sky objects  and other stuff, then I would recommend you to look at the previous videos since January 2012. In addition to the weekly vodcasts , I would be posting a monthly digest of the vodcasts collection for each month during this year. You just have to look at the weekly vodcasts and the monthly vodcasts section in the categories section to help you out.

If you feel still not enough, then I would recommend you to log on eyesonthesky.com website and search for the past videos of  year 2011 in the Videos Section or just visit his Youtube Channel.

Eyesonthesky, Eyesonthesky, Eyesonthesky what is it?

This is what Dave wrote on the first post on his blog included in his website which was an introduction to his work plus something really profound…… in his own words.

 In the beginning, the Lord said, “Let there be light.”  And then in the 1950’s or so, Man said, “Let there be light at night too,” except then it blocked out most of the natural lights from up above, and Man (and Woman!), had to drive out to the country to see all of the stars, and even then, the Heavens aren’t nearly so glorious as they once were.

Hmmmm….

Okay, so I really wanted to say something profound and wise and whatnot with my first blog post here on the new “Eyes on the Sky” website, and I confess, the above doesn’t quite accomplish that as I’d hoped.  So here’s the deal: This site is designed for beginners and intermediate stargazers and amateur astronomers alike.  I have a dual focus: To educate about the night sky and how to find things in it, and about light pollution reduction.  It’s really that simple.  I hope you enjoy the videos I create and post here, and I look forward to adding more thoughts on things as I have the opportunity to expound on them here in this space.

Wishing you clear and dark skies!

Dave

And how Eyes on the sky is described.

“Eyes on the Sky” is both weekly night sky videos so anyone can find bright planets, constellations and other objects/phenomena in the night sky and informational videos for how to set up and use amateur telescopes with minimal confusion and frustration. Keeping in mind those in cities and suburbs, where light pollution blocks many stars, the weekly videos are designed so most anyone can see these sights naked eye, or with simple binoculars or very small telescopes. Informational videos are geared towards those who have an interest for the night sky but may not be as technically oriented.

Urban Amateur Astronomy has a great draw back and that is Light Pollution. At the end of each of his videos the astronomy passionate presenter would draw our attention to the wastage of light towards the sky. Hope you join the caravan in combating Light Pollution in your area and around.

So without much ado here is the first video of the endless series to come……

Eyes on the Sky: March 19 thru March 25

Venturing through the Virgo galaxy cluster / catching a comet

The Virgo galaxy cluster is a “must-see” area of sky for any amateur astronomer looking to conduct a Messier marathon, which are popular to attempt around this time of year.  “Eyes on the Sky” points towards the “jump off point” to find several of these galaxies.  Swinging northward, Comet Garradd is still slowly making its way through our solar system, cruising past the pointer stars of the Big Dipper this week.  It is an easier target in a small, wide-field telescope, but can be spotted with binoculars in moderately light polluted areas with careful scanning.  Download and print this star chart from Sky and Telescope magazine to help you find the comet this week.

The star charts mentioned in the video:

  1.  Chart 11 :VIRGO, COMA BERENICES, CORVUS, SERPENS CAPUT
  2. Chart 11a: Close up of VIRGO galaxies

If you want a constant viewing of the weekly presentations without missing any of the video posts just subscribe to Eyesonthesky.com or just Follow this blog where you will be notified of new posts.

And yes, take out your gears and raise your eyes up to the beautiful night sky.

Chocolate Mars with Leo

Addiction is  a bad thing. People are  addicted to anything mobile phones, T.V, video games,  cigarettes, internet, Facebook, drugs or even  chocolate. It always leads to something real bad. What about being addicted to the night sky?

Getting up late at night and going outside and gazing up at  the  sky is something to be done, especially as it is summer now. It’s so refreshing, clears up the mind and even puts you on  a high . You get the real calmness of the night, coupled with a light breeze going right  through your hair, your favourite chocolate with you……. this is a great moment ( ……. ). Experience it at 2:00 a.m.

However, you don’t need to be addicted to the night sky, you  can just be a casual night gazer. It’s free. People  don’t just gaze at something, they  don’t understand, so gazing should be coupled with knowing , understanding and appreciation. The night sky is there for that.  It’s just the factor of amazement,  The everyday amazement of such a beautiful  created sky is longing to be seen and  appreciated. Not just that it needs to be appreciated because it’s beautiful  but to think that the sky has been there with all it’s  majesty for so long and has been amazing billions of people around the globe and would stay a wonder. Obviously it is there for a perfect reason.

So what’s up there in the night sky?

Nous sommes au mois de Mars, nous devrions regarder la planète Mars. It’s great that Mars is there up for us to see.

Mars towards East

Mars is already in the sky towards the East as from the evening at sunset. If you fancy following Mars the whole night then  you would have to raise your head towards  the east and then follow it towards the west . Mars would drown itself in the western horizon at about 4:00 a.m in the morning. So, have your eyes up. If ever, during this weekend  you’re planning anything outside at night, or just get up from sleep at 2:00 am then visit mars on Leo’s  belly.

Towards the west at 2:00 a.m. It’s  great that Mars is there up for us to see.  (If you ever get up at night:)) Mars would be in front of you, if you face towards the west and look up at the sky. Mars is settled just above the constellation of Leo. It’s just as if Mars is on the belly of the lion while the lion is dozing off with its four feet upwards.  You don’t have to picture all this ,but it’s just so amazing to see Regulus and the other stars too.

Regulus? Now what is this? Regulus is the main brightest star in the constellation Leo.  Known also as the heart of the Lion.

Regulus - The Lion's heart

I still don’t find it?

At sunset , that is where the sun sets , toward the west. Look towards the sun. Then change your position to 90 degrees that’s the  East. Now look towards  the sky in this position a little later( about half or an hour later)  after sunset, you would see a bright yellow looking star, which doesn’t twinkle.  That is Planet Mars. If you look at it with a pair of binoculars you would see that is glowing red. So, have a look and give me your shout.

So if you are addicted in any way,  other than sleeping, Then go out  to see the night sky. Give me a shout if you find Mars.

 

The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

What do you say about that?

Ahhh. That star…. it’s so bright. I see it almost nearly everyday from my room.

It’s so clear here….. I think this is the same star.

I was rather smiling at my friend at this point.

Etaaa …. You studied Physics your whole life and you don’t even know that this is not a star.

Ooh….Ohhh….Ohhh

This is planet Venus, the brighter one and the other is Jupiter.

I think this was too harsh for my friend who had just dropped by my house. Anyone looking at these planets would obviously say that these planets are stars. They shine so bright. As for Venus, wow, it is brighter than Sirius (the brightest star in our night sky) nowadays. But how to know if they are not stars. Stars shine and they shimmer in brightness (twinkle), but planets do shine but do not shimmer. Yeah if there is a wind then they would, but if it’s calm they won’t shimmer.

Looking towards the West Northwest as from the sunset until 8:00 pm, the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter would be easily seen.  Venus and Jupiter would remain closer during the few days to come.

This News Bulletin just released by the The Astronomy And Nature Centre TV gives a good explanation coupled with a presentation on Stellarium.

If you want to get a quick idea of the conjunction in 90 seconds then listen to this podcast. If you ever fantasy tacking a picture of them just give me a shout.

Have your eyes up to the sky and you will appreciate the view.

Venus-Jupiter on 14/03/2012

Venus and Jupiter on 15/03/2012

 

Download Stellarium free

What is Stellarium?

Stellarium is a Planetarium on your desktop . That is what it is.

You see the sky ?

Have your laptop with you?

Stellarium is installed?

If you said yes to the above ?

Start Stellarium

And Behold!! The sky wherever you are is on your screen.

Now just look up and down, up and down, up and down.

You will be able to surf around the sky in a few minutes.

Short but sweet

Stellarium, it helps you to learn the sky a lot.

  1. Learning the constellations: Names of the 88 constellations.
  2. Know about the boundaries of the constellations: Constellation Lines
  3. Astro Art of the constellations.
  4. Know about the major and minor stars in the constellations: You know their minutest details, like how far is the star, e.g:  Rigel: 772.88 years light years, the RA/DE, the parallax, the star magnitude and a lot of other details.
  5. Knowing about the planets
  6. Knowing about the asteroids
  7. Individual Stars
  8. Binary Stars
  9. Nebulae
  10. Deep sky Objects
  11. Zooming facility
  12. Indication of the Cardinal Points
  13. One great feature is Rewind, Fast-forward, Pause and Play……. Time. You can obviously predict which star will be where and when. Or just see how the moon orbits around the earth.
  14. Wherever you are in the world you can observe the sky with Stellarium. You can obviously observe How constellations form in Paris, Germany, or even in Australia or Mauritius. Have fun while learning at the same time.

Actually it is a fun way to learn the Universe in a more visual way. I recommend it to every newbie interested in knowing about our amazing universe.

One more thing, if you just want the universe for yourselves than so be it, but if you want to share, than it is good to know that Stellarium is good for presentations too. If you want the professional touch then you have Stellarium Console. Or, you can even have Stellarium on your Mobiles. The universe on your palms.

You can have a rough introductory guide here and more about functionalities here.

For more informational and detailed features on Stellarium I would  rather recommend the reviews here and here.

There are many other cool features, you just have to try it. And if you’re kind enough, then let me know too…… through your comments below.

So what are you waiting for? Download Stellarium free now.

Astronomy Outreach for dummies

 

Back to the class after one of my efforts to the first unofficial Astronomy Outreach with the students. I started the class with

“ So my students I gave you a homework to do last time I came to your class.” (Eyebrows-up as expecting them to answer).  And so they did answer

“ Yeah, you told us to look  at the sky at night.”

(Previously, after an hour lecture, I told them to just appreciate the night sky, and it could  be  rather done accompanied)

Aa.. distance la moonu moonu
Moonu colour-u white.
White-u background night night-u
Night-u coloru black-u

Now the rantings started.

Hunhhahaha..
Super maama ready..
Ready.. one..e.. two.o.. three.. four.

One : “Ayyo, I spent an hour outside and didn’t find anything.”

Two: “Me also, you told us to see the stars but there are so many.”

Three: “I was looking above at the sky and didn’t find anything. I was tired and went inside.”

Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di

So, to start there is so much too see at the sky but only there should be a guide to explain where to start ‘cause at the night the stars are all over but where to find each one of them is the real thing.

On a real dark night you can find from  1500 to  2000 stars on the sky. So where to start?

You start here or here.

If I give you a world map with all the countries on them but without the markings and the country names and assuming you never saw a map in your life. Could you identify where China or India is? What about tiny Mauritius

But now if I give you a map of the world with the naming and markings then assuming you are still the same dumber who strangely has never seen a map but knows a bit of English. So now could you find United States of America?

Though with some difficulty I think you could do it.

And now if I give you the same task but give you a search option to look for a country on a digital map, say for example a google map. Then what you think could you find it more easily .

You would obviously say

“YEAAAAh”

Similarly, the night sky is the same . The night sky is like a map. You should know the bigger countries where they are placed at first and then with time you would know where tiny looking Mauritius is.

Stars in the night tend to attach themselves together to form clusters. Ah! That is why we say “A cluster of stars”. But we rather know them as constellations. So these constellations group themselves in the night sky just like big countries like Australia, India, United States etc.

And when you look at them you know where they are.

Now, you are given a Star map with the names on it, obviously you would not find France , Brazil, Saudi Arabia or countries like that but rather, Orion, Auriga, Perseus, or Gemini. And you don’t know what the hell is that, but you go outside with a star map and start looking at the stars. You would return to your room with the expression WTF?

Do you get the WTF expression?

But, the thing is it starts becoming interesting when you identify your first country. Once you get that, you have jumped on to your ride to the Universe. Believe me it’s the most exciting thing.

So, for example you find the Orion’s belt. From here you can find almost all the countries “constellations” of your star map. Try not to do it all in one go.  Go step by step.  You would have to use the technique known as Starhopping.

But my advice would be to go by identifying the borders of your identified countries so that you will be able to find your next constellation. But in this process. You will have to know the stars too.

So, you will come to a point that you will be able to identify the stars within a constellation. Don’t panic there won’t be a thousand stars in a constellation but only a few.

Take it just as major cities in a country, like India has Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkota and Chennai. So, in Taurus which is near to Orion you would find, Aldebaran, Elnath, fainter than Aldebaran  or even The Pleiades.

Now to the next step, you are a smart guy, you don’t like being like the oldies, like taking your map and going outside and fumbling with it and looking weird. (You already are weird when you’re just looking at the sky specially at night. Onlookers get the impression as if you are looking for UFO’s. I am going through this) You are the techie guy. Though old school always proves itself to be the best one.

So for you, there is a great solution too. Stellarium.  Ah! this is the best piece of software ever created for Mankind. I love it.So you for example don’t know where to look. Start here on Stellarium. Take your laptop outside and now you will be able to surf around the sky in a few minutes.

With Stellarium you just type in the search “Orion”.

And

 

On your screen behold! Orion appears

 

And now your want to starhop , want to surf around, want to learn the constellations, you can practically do everything.

Moreover, You can zooooooooooom , that is you can enlarge the stars with your mouse scroll to have a look on each star. And with the magnification you appreciate the hugeness of each Individual star.

So, I think this ends the lesson here on how to start seeing the sky. I think I should go out  now to have my eyes on  the night sky to see what’s up.

P.S: In our part of the world we always see the hunter upside down in comparison to the Northern Hemisphere. I think the greeks never visited down here.

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