THE CONSTELLATIONS. Patterns in the Sky.
Is identified by the 4 main stars that make up the pan or dipper and the 3 stars in the tail. You use the 2 stars on the end of the pan as the pointing stars to find Polaris the North Star in the tail of the Little Dipper. The 2 stars that are the pointers are Dubhe—the top star and Merak—the bottom star in the pan.
The handle has a star in the middle which is actually an optical double star. Their names are Alcor and Mizar. You must use a telescope to see them.
Denab is the star at the back or north end of Cygnus. This star is about 2,300 light years away but is one of the fifteen brightest stars in our night sky.
This constellation is one that is only visible during the fall and winter months. It has 2 of the sky’s 15 brightest stars. The deep red star Betelgeuse. This star shrinks and swells over a cycle of six months. The second star is Rigel which is 900 light years away from Earth.
Orion’s belt is formed by 3 stars and hanging from the belt is a sword. About halfway down you find a greenish blur and this is the Orion Nebula (M42). It is a gigantic swirling cloud of gases.
There are many stars being formed in this cloud.
To find Lyra, you must look for a blue-white giant star named Vega. It is usually almost directly overhead and the brightest star in the summer sky. Vega is also one of the stars of the “summer triangle”.
The star Altair is at the head of Aquila. It is 16 light-years away and is 10 times brighter than our Sun. If you follow the tail of Aquila, you will find M11 which is an open cluster that is fantastic to view through a telescope. Altair is another one of the stars that makes up the Summer Triangle.
Cephus, in Greek mythology is the husband of Cassiopeia, who was a boastful queen. This constellation looks more like a house that has a pointed roof than it does a king.
This starry constellation can be found between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. The star Thuban is in the tail of this constellation and was once the pole star 5,000 years ago. It will become the pole star again in 20,000 years from now.
In Greek mythology, Leo was believed to have fought Hercules. Leo is a constellation that is part of the zodiac which is made up of 12 different constellations which can be found in the night skies throughout the year.
The square of Hercules is easy to find in the summer sky. It can be seen close to the Corona Borealis also known as the Northern Crown. On the right side of the square you will find M13 which can be seen with binoculars. You will see what appears to be hundreds of stars bursting from a “fuzzy” center. It is a globular cluster and is 25,000 light-years away from the Earth.
Cassiopeia was the mother of Andromeda who always bragged about how beautiful she and her daughter were. For most of the year, she looks very regal sitting correctly on her throne, but the rest of the year she appears upside down as punishment for being so boastful. In the fall, she appears as a flattened “W” in the sky.
The Little Dipper is also called Ursa Minor. The star at the end of the tail is Polaris or the North Star. The North Star is about 50 times larger than our own Sun!
To find this constellation, you find the star in the end of the handle of the Big Dipper—Alkaid. It arcs toward the star Arcturus, which is the brightest star in the constellation and the fourth brightest in the night sky. Arcturus is the closest giant star to Earth and is an orange color. It is only 36 light-years away from our planet. Bootes was put in the heavens to guard Earth against the Great Bear or the Big Dipper which is close by.
light-year: a unit of astronomical distance equivalent to the distance that light travels in one year, which is 9.4607 × 1012km, nearly 6 trillion miles.Summer Triangle: this is not an actual constellation. It is a pattern to help you find 3 constellations during the summer months—Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila.
The Stargazers Guide to the Galaxy by Q. L. Pearce and illustrated by Mary Ann Fraser.