Spring Skies at Night   Leave a comment

Spring Constellation Map

 

There’s a tiny, disk-sized patch of snow behind the museum where I work, a reminder that winter wasn’t all that long ago.  I keep waiting for it to melt, but it refuses, so I ignore it and remember that its water’s going to water the grass it’s hiding.  In defiance, some crocuses finally gathered the gumption to bloom – a month late – and later the daffodils joined in.

Ah, spring!

But if that snow didn’t want to release its chilly grip on Earth, all I had to do was look up and see the spring sky greet me.  Clouds are the only impediment to these yearly harbingers of warmer times.

I’ve got a few favs I eagerly look for when the days begin to lengthen.  When Leo starts strutting up that heavenly hill come February, spring isn’t far behind.

Leo

There’s no mistaking him.  He’s got a jewel on one foot, Regulus, magnitude 1.4, and sports another in his tail, Denebola, a bright second-magnitude (2.14) star.  He leads the parade for my next favorite grouping:

The Herdsman

Bootes, the Herdsman.  You can’t mistake him either, although he’s so large it’ll might take a little patience to find him.  His main-feature star, Arcturus, lights up his lap.  He’s sitting down, smoking his pipe, wondering how all those sheep he was supposed to watch disappeared (perhaps Leo ate them?).

Or maybe he’s just trying to hide that hunk of bling behind him, the Northern Crown, or Corona Borealis.  It has a second-magnitude star, Gemma, actually a binary star, or two stars rotating around each other. Its magnitude shifts from 2.21 to 2.32, not very noticeable with the unaided eye.  You’d need seventeen straight days to stare up at it with a telescope to measure the change.

Corona Borealis, Bootes

Credit: Till Credner (Own work: AlltheSky.com) 

We all know how lions pride themselves on their gorgeous manes.  Bootes must share the same sentiment, because between him and Leo, there’s a fantastic group of very faint stars known as Berenice’s Hair.

Berenices Hair            Be's Hair

It’s small, but that doesn’t make it special!  There are eight galaxies within it, several globular clusters, 200 variable stars in its region and if that weren’t enough, the North Galactic Pole is amidst her strands.  But wait!  There’s more!  She gets all twinkly and festive during the Christmas season.  Bragging her own meteor showers during December and January, she peaks from December 18-25, right in time for the holidays.  It’s also important, when looking at her, not to expect to spot the Milky Way.  When her hair is high in the sky, the Milky Way is lower in the sky, on or near the horizon.

And speaking of meteor showers, in mornings you’ll find the Lyrids, or meteor showers occurring near the constellation Lyra.  Those occur at the end of April, peaking between April 22-25.  The radiant is where to look; the meteors seem to be originating from that point.

Lyrids-2011-12_30April-23

Credit: astrobob.areavoices.com

Now, get off that couch, stop texting, get outside and go have yourselves a great look at the nighttime sky!

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: