Observatory shares telescope, STAR parties

·3 min read

Jul. 31—Did you join the crowd at the STAR party at Resaca de la Palma recently? If not, make sure to find out when the next one will be. Sharing the Christina Torres Memorial Observatory telescope and hearing first hand from Dr. Mario Diaz about astronomical research being conducted locally is a rare opportunity. The next event STARS teams will be hosting will be Aug. 20 at the two Brownsville public libraries and will relate to the amazing James Webb Space Telescope. Check with the libraries for details please.

Summer skies regularly display specific constellations although the growth of our area and the resultant excessive lighting and the dust in the air from the drought and the wind seriously diminish our ability to see what is actually somewhere out there.

Directly overhead at the zenith as full dark sets in is an amber hued star named Arcturus. If you are able to locate the Big Dipper star pattern in the northwest and identify the bowl and the handle, you are in a great observing location. "Follow the arc of the handle to Arcturus, swing down to blue-white Spica (SPY-kuh) in Virgo, and go a bit lower to the trapezoid shape of Corvus the Crow." This mnemonic has been a tool to assist many beginning optical astronomers begin to star hop and learn the patterns before spending money on a telescope.

If you are not sure how to find the directions and don't have a compass in your cell phone, stand with your right shoulder towards where you saw the sunrise, your left shoulder towards where it set, and facing straight ahead will be the general direction of north. Of course, at the present season the sun does not set exactly west or rise directly east, but it is close enough to get a person oriented to north.

The trapezoid of stars that form the bowl of the Big Dipper, or the blade of the Plow as this group of stars is known in some other star lore, is opening downward and the bent handle curves to the right and upwards toward the zenith and happily points out Boötes, the ox herder or the plowman. The stars of Boötes form a kite, with Arcturus at the base of the kite and a strand of dim stars that form the tail of the kite.

The group of stars that form Virgo where Spica is shimmering do not resemble a female in any way. But the gleam of Spica does outshine the largest engagement ring diamond without a doubt. Virgo represents the goddess Ceres, and she is holding a sheaf of wheat in her left arm that is graced by that blazing star.

Just below that is the legendary Corvus the Crow of Greek mythology. There are several versions of the story behind this constellation and all of them are intriguing. Each version is teaching a lesson of the virtue of telling the truth or struggling against great difficulties. Perhaps one of these days we will share the story of Rainbow Crow, which is one of the stories related to Corvus.

Thanks to several of the folks who were at the CTMO a couple weeks ago. It was a pleasure to meet you and I am thankful you made the time to join us and to say hi. Until next week, DO let some stars get in your eyes.