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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.

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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

Constellations: Origins and Now

The sky is like a grid with lots of scattered dots.  Joined together they may take many a lot of forms, depending on the whims of the sky gazer. But with these groupings known as Constellations they have helped us a lot to discover the sky.

Before the advent of the T.V, internet or the recent social medias there was a time where people used to distract themselves by observing the sky.

The sky used to marvel their souls as it was a not a stagnant beauty but the moving of the stars on the celestial plane would be their night show. After having gone through a day of accomplishment like “yeah, I conquered Rome to-day”, looking to the sky, with all its wonders would humble their beings.

We should be full of chagrin that today we are not able to appreciate and contemplate on the night sky in our urban settings. Artificial lights, though beautifying our space have barred our view of the beautiful night sky. Urbanization has given us a great wonder of man-made lighting everywhere, making our nights to become days where never ending work (24/7) has become our norm.

But……there was a time, when people had “time” to look and observe the sky. So, they grouped the stars into constellations.

Where did these constellations originate?

“Constellations are groupings of stars that, to ancient peoples, were heavenly manifestations of known or imagined objects, creatures and beings. Constellations appeared at certain times of the year, returning to those same positions annually. The ancient stargazers ascribed significance to these observations. Though identifying constellations predates the Greeks and Romans, the 48 “classical” constellation names familiar to us come from those societies.” Courtesy http://www.ehow.com/

The Greeks were creative. In fact, the constellations even today are named after the mythical beings, shapes or creatures they honored or resembled in their minds. For example, the Orion constellation takes the form of a man wielding a club and wearing a belt and a sheath.  Taurus resembles a bull’s head. And Scorpio is the Scorpion which is going to harm the man in the Orion’s constellation.  We will back  with the creative stories of the Greeks in the constellations category.

The constellations were helpful for remembering the stars, but at that time where people having loads of time in their hands would attribute the sky to several other purposes. It is common story in astronomy that farmers of the past would know about the movement of the stars and constellations in order when to sow their crops and when to harvest.  Story tellers among the Greeks would use these constellations to relate about the exploits of their Gods. And strange enough, the Egyptians had aligned their pyramids in Giza to the Orion’s belt.  The three stars in the belt as Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka

The Arabs were the ones who preserved the astronomical science and augmented in the science so that the generations to come may take benefit from this extraordinary science. It is so interesting to know that the constellations were given Arabic names and even loads of stars got their names too. For example, In the Orion’s constellation Betelgeuse was previously yad-al-jawzaa, which later in my opinion became bad-al-jawzaa to Betelgeuse. Whereas Saiph the star, the bright star adjacent to Rigel, means The Sword. And Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are Arabic too which are still called the same. Alnitak means ‘the girdle’ Alnilam, means ‘the string of pearls and Mintaka means ‘the belt’.

Then In the early twentienth century the constellations were put to an order and to the previously classical constellations other constellations were added up by  the International astronomical Union up to 88 constellations which is still in use to date. Thus the sky is now divided in these constellations, to help humanity in observing them.

“Originally the constellations were defined informally by the shapes made by their star patterns, but, as the pace of celestial discoveries quickened in the early 20th century, astronomers decided it would be helpful to have an official set of constellation boundaries. One reason was to aid in the naming of new variable stars, which brighten and fade rather than shine steadily. Such stars are named for the constellation in which they reside, so it is important to agree where one constellation ends and the next begins.”  Courtesy http://www.iau.org/public/constellations/

Obviously, these stars do not have boundaries or lines to join them when we look at them in the sky, but with the game of joining the dots, we are able to make up the lines and identify the constellations.

Further division was given to the constellations by forming patterns known as Asterisms. Well-known “constellations” such as the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, the Teapot, the Northern Cross, and the Summer Triangle are not among the official list. Some, like the Dippers and the Teapot, are actually parts of other constellations (the Big Dipper, or the great bear is part of Ursa Major, the Little Dipper is part of Ursa Minor, and the Teapot is part of Sagittarius). Others, like the Summer Triangle and Winter Hexagon, include stars from several neighboring constellations. These asterisms help us to identify the brighter stars in the constellations. If you enjoy stargazing, you may even have a few of your own personal asterisms, like I did on my entry to stargazing.

So now I have to learn 88 constellations to understand this Astronomy?

Ahhh…..Kinda yes. If you want to be familiar with the sky then you have to know the stars and the constellations. But it is a marvelous, jaw- dropping adventure which you will never regret. And learning along is the great thing.

Yeah, but still I have to learn 88 constellations?

Rome was not conquered in one day. Learning the sky can be done step by step. You learn it by loving it. No rush for a certificate, no rush for schooling, just you and the stars. Finding Betelgeuse in Orion would be pretty easy. But also knowing that it is classified as a red supergiant, Betelgeuse is one of the largest and most luminous stars known. In terms of mass, Betelgeuse is thought to be about 15 times the mass of the sun, but 600 times wider and more than 200 million times its volume! Though it looks tiny but it is not what you are thinking……. Isn’t the study of stars cool?

Found our star, the sun?

Stay tuned, there is more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

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