Winter constellations come into view

·3 min read

Sep. 11—Doesn't it seem as though Texas is made to star-gaze? From the Lone Star in our flag, to "The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas," we just can't seem to get enough of those stars ... and don't forget, the Cowboys have stars on their helmets and jerseys, not cowboys.

As the evening sun (our star) sets a few minutes earlier each day, and rises a few minutes later each morning, providing the darkness that improves the visibility of whatever stars are shining above a bit sooner, perhaps the children can get in a little family star time before bed or before heading off to school.

Pity the poor middle school students who have to be at school by 7:25 a.m., long before they are fully awake. But they do get to see the splendid winter-nights constellation Orion that will be rising twelve hours later by December and visible all night long throughout the winter months. The shoulders of Orion are marked by a red star in his right shoulder and a blue-white one for his left shoulder. There is a second pair of blue-white stars beneath a tilted group of three stars in between the two sets of two stars to mark Orion's knees. The red star is Betelgeuse, a red super-giant star. If this star were our sun, earth would not exist; this star's diameter would reach almost to Jupiter.

Below Orion's belt, those three stars angled in a row between those pairs of stars about halfway to the horizon, is a super-bright star, Sirius, the Dog Star. This is the star the ancient Egyptians thought caused the excessive heat of August because they knew it was up during the day. To the left of Sirius is another bright star known as Procyon, or the Pup. The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, and the glowering red eye of Taurus the Bull are all shining in the predawn sky to intrigue us as we head off to work, school, or make an early morning run through the neighborhood.

Late September on through October many sky-watchers have a Messier Marathon seeking to "bag" as many of the particular structures identified by Charles Messier, the French astronomer who identified and cataloged them in the 18th century as he searched for comets. He gave a number to anything fuzzy that he saw in the sky, so that other astronomers could help identify them and eventually learn what each one was. As technology advanced, all of them (the fuzzy objects, not the astronomers) were classified. The objects discovered with the new technology were given other classifications. One thing we can say about science, it is always changing when new technologies are developed. No one could possibly memorize all of it. I am reminded of one of the lines in "The King and I" when Yul Brynner says "what we thought was so, was not." And I have learned there are considerations going on to restore Pluto to its former title. Defining things is important.

Telescope users searching the summer constellations such as Ophiuchus and Sagittarius will discover these constellations include many Messier objects. Samples of these are M14 in Ophiuchus and M21 and M 24 in Sagittarius. M24 is called the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud. It is relatively bright and large, 95' by35'. At the northwest end of M24 you may spy NGC 6603, several dozen stars in an open cluster. These might be seen if you attend the last Friday of the month night hike at Resaca de la Palma and take advantage of the Christina Torres observatory hosts after the hike.

Until next week, do let some stars get in your eyes. P.S. Messier is not messy-er-it is ME zzjay.