Monday, August 24, 2009


Pegasus, the great winged horse... the idea of which was a favorite of mine as a child. I mean, we are talking about a HORSE that can FLY! What could possibly be cooler, except maybe a cheetah that can fly? Ok, so that one was completely my own imagination... in any case, the constellation Pegasus represents the mythological beast of the same name. I was a big fan of the ones in Fantasia:

Here is what Pegasus the constellation looks like:

That's right - Pegasus is upside down when rising in the east. Perhaps he is in the middle of a loop-the-loop?

If you can find Andromeda, you can find Pegasus (and vice versa) - those "back legs" are in fact Andromeda and are not part of Pegasus at all.

Once you learn where it is, the square that makes up Pegasus's body is easy to spot. Four bright stars making something pretty darn close to a perfect square.

Now if only the stars would come out again...


Andromeda, in mythology, is the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. In astronomy, it is a constellation that is connected to Pegasus - in fact, it looks quite a bit like Pegasus's back legs.

The connecting star is a member of the Great Square of Pegasus - but officially is the brightest member of Andromeda, Alpha Andromedae or Sirrah. Sirrah is one of two stars that belong to two constellations at once.

Andromeda is kind of on the far side (south) of Cepheus and Cassiopeia.

The other cool thing about Andromeda is that it contains the Andromeda Galaxy (see where M31 is marked on the picture? M31 is the Andromeda Galaxy.) It is to the west of Andromeda. Check out the Andromeda in my Fun Astronomy Fact #1!


I found Cepheus in somewhat of a different way than I found the other constellations - I found the constellation first, and figured out what it was later.

That's right - my fiance and I, looking at the stars during our meteor shower watch, noted that there was a group of stars to the west of Andromeda looked like it should be something.

Cepheus's main shape is five stars shaped like a Kindergarten-style drawing of a house - square on the bottom with a triangle on top.

In mythology, Cepheus is a king, husband to Cassiopeia and father to Andromeda, who follow him in the sky as their own constellations. I'll share the story of these characters (along with Perseus, another circumpolar constellation) in the next week.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back again, meteors, and NEW CONSTELLATIONS!

WHOO, sorry about that long break! I was having problems signing in, but I figured it out! So onward!

So, I went out to see the meteors twice on the 12th - once around 5 AM UT (12 Eastern) and once around 8:30 AM UT (3:30 AM Eastern). It was awesome! First time was with my fiance, second time with my brother. The sky was so clear! It was quite beautiful.

Also, I discovered that my yard is not a complete waste of a place to stargaze. If I can maneuver myself so that the trees block out the street lamps, I get a somewhat decent view. In fact, I can now identify three more constellations by sight: Cepheus, Andromeda, and Pegasus. I'll give you some information on each of these in my next three blogs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Perseids 2009 (Meteor shower) coming!

According to the International Meteor Organization's website ( we are due for a meteor shower in the next few days!

Small chunk from the website:
"Although the major northern hemisphere Perseids are badly affected by the last quarter Moon near their best this year, there is the possibility they may produce somewhat increased rates. The usual maximum is due around August 12, 17h30m-20h00m UT, but Esko Lyytinen suggests we may encounter the 1610 Perseid trail earlier on August 12, around 9h00m UT (λo = 139°661). This could produce activity additional to the normal Perseid ZHRs then of a few tens, maybe up to a hundred. Mikhail Maslov confirmed this but for 8h00m UT and with only 10-15 meteors per hour."

They also have a nifty graph. I recommend checking it out.

UT means universal time. It is basically the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), so most likely it is ahead of your time. It should be fairly easy to find the difference between where you are and GMT. For example, Eastern time is -5 GMT, so I go back five hours from the UT times given on the site. The "usual maximum" quoted would be from 12:30 to 3:00 PM Eastern time. The other suggested times would be 4 am and 3 am, the earlier ones, before you wake up for your day on August 12.

Even if you aren't able to catch the peak, I still recommend a peek outside. You should still be able to see some meteors - they just won't come as close together.

May your skies be clear and the moon not too bright!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Ode to the Rain

I'm no poet, but I thought I'd make a little something in lieu of any stars. Published a day late because the storm knocked out our internet.

Day though it is, darkness cloaks,
Sweeping as the wind through the trees.
Green fades to grey and silver,
Gold flashes; diamonds clatter -great chains of diamonds
Glint outside my window.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Plan of Action

So I have no real good place at the moment to actually look at the sky. I either need to find a place or make a new plan of action.

I intend to do both - find me a good place but make a change to my strategy until then.

My cousin made an excellent suggestion - starting with the circumpolar constellations. I went and found a picture:

Of these I can easily find Ursa Minor (little dipper), the big dipper portion of Ursa Major (the full constellations is bigger), Cassiopeia, and the part of Draco that loops around Ursa Minor. Cepheus should be up high enough to be seen easily and not hidden by trees. I hope I can see it in my sky.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fun Astronomy Fact #1

This is the Andromeda Galaxy (M31):

This is the galaxy closest to the Milky Way and can be found in the constellation Andromeda. Like the Milky Way, it is a spiral galaxy, with a central hub of stars surrounded by spiral arms (two in the case of Andromeda).

The Milky Way is on a crash course with Andromeda, scheduled to impact around 4 billion years from now.*

It's not a particularly worrying scenario, what with it being 4 billion years and a rather large situation out of human control. But I do enjoy the thought of it getting closer, letting us maybe have a little better look at it. Yeah, it won't be noticeable in our lifetimes, but maybe our ancestors will be able to see it easily in the sky. Maybe not, but you have to admit it's a nice thought.

*Info courtesy of A Year of the Stars by Fred Schaaf

Moderate success: The Summer Triangle, the Dippers and Cassiopeia

As for finding Serpens Cauda and Scutum, there was no way. They are small constellations of not the brightest of stars hanging out south of my treeline in the brightness of the moon in a neighborhood where even the darkest spots have quite a bit of light pollution. So I focused on finding things that I already knew where they are. I found the little dipper (with the North Star about half-way up the sky in the north), the big dipper (to the west of the little dipper), and Cassiopeia (the W-shaped constellation currently to the east of the little dipper). These constellations have one thing in common - they are all circumpolar, which means they never go below the horizon. They circle the North Star without ever setting.

I also took a look at the Summer Triangle. I can find it fairly easily, but I always have trouble figuring out which of the three stars is which. Unfortunately, I couldn't see many of the other stars in the three constellations, so I had to look at my star map to figure it out.

Altair is the star farthest south. Deneb can be located more to the east, and Vega more to the West. About 11:00, Vega is highest, almost straight up. This picture is as if you are looking to the south.

Tonight the plan is SLEEP. I am tired and have an appointment in the morning. I'll have a fun astronomy fact for tomorrow, though. Be sure to check back in!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Light-post mania

Whoever decided to put the lights on my street must really have an issue with the dark. It is like blazing daylight. I'd really considering joining that Night-Sky organization now, except monetary contribution is a requirement. Maybe I'll ask for a membership for Christmas or something.

In any case, my fiance and I did manage to find a place on a road fairly close to mine. Not the absolute best, but I should be able to make out constellations at least. I couldn't last night because of a whole bunch of clouds and a moon nearing full, but now I have a place to go! I don't think the clouds are supposed to be too bad tonight (especially after my typical bedtime, naturally), so I think I'm gonna take a shot and figure out how to find some constellations I couldn't before.

Fred Schaaf in his book suggests the constellations Cygnus, Scutum, Serpens Cauda and Sagittarius as constellations that are in good view in August. Cygnus (the swan) I have found before and can probably find without too much difficulty.

The really big bright star Deneb is in a triangle of stars known as the "Summer Triangle". Vega in the constellation Lyra and Altair of the constellation Aquila are the other two.

Sagittarius will be hanging out in the south behind a bunch of trees, so that won't be a good thing to look for, so I am going to aim for Scutum and Serpens Cauda, which are still on the southerly side, but probably findable. Although it took me a long time just to find them on the star map. Small little buggers! They are hanging out in the Milky Way band. If my look-out spot is dark enough to see that, I will throw a party on here tomorrow. Ice cream for all!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Look ma! No stars!

I took a peek outside to see what kind of visibility I have from my yard. I knew it wasn't great (TREES EVERYWHERE) but I figured I'd be able to see some stars to the east.

I'd forgotten about the street light they put in across the street. I could barely see any stars at all. Maybe tonight I will take a walk around the neighborhood and see if there's any decent dark places. At least I might get a nice walk with the fiance out of it. I maybe could go to the beach too, but most parks around here close at 10, just when it starts getting dark. Also I'd have to drive.

In any case, I have been checking out online resources. I'm not interested in joining any societies that require me to pay dues at the moment, and I would like my resources to be useful for me in my non-knowledgeable beginner state.

Fun one first - the astronomy picture of the day! Today's picture:

The orange star near the middle is T Tauri, a variable star (meaning it changes brightness). It is surrounded by Hind's Variable Nebula. The site has more information. They include nice descriptions with their pictures!

I thought that the International Meteor Organization ( looked like a good source for knowing when meteor showers are coming up, and I really liked the aims of the International Dark-Sky Association (, which is to limit light pollution. I might join that one. We'll see. I didn't see anything about dues.

Here's to hoping for clear skies tonight and someplace in the neighborhood with something resembling a decent view of the sky!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Adventure Begins...

Recently, I took a 2 AM trip across the park to the little girls' room at a nearby campground and found myself mesmerized by the stars up above. It turned into quite the long trip as I ended up standing in the middle of the road staring straight up for quite a while.

Now, the same thing happens every time I look at the stars like this. I look for the few constellations I recognize and imagine being able to recognize all the constellations I see and know where some really awesome deep-sky objects are. But just a couple of days later, I stumbled across a book in the discount section of a bookstore called A Year of the Stars: A Month-By-Month Journey of Skywatching by Fred Schaaf. I bought it on a whim. Turns out it is a really nifty month-by-month guide complete with an astronomy primer perfect for the beginning astronomer but with enough detail and interesting objects to be useful for a long time. At least that's how I perceived it.

In any case, it's what I have and I'm going to use it as a basic guide of what fun things I can look for in the sky. I've also got more detailed star maps lying around somewhere, probably covered in cobwebs in the basement. I'm at a low enough level that I shouldn't need too many source materials - I'll be happy just to be able to find all the constellations, let alone finding distant nebulas (nebulae?) via telescope.

This blog I am hoping to be an easy read, light-hearted and fun, as I am just having fun learning about something I find very interesting and will no doubt post all sorts of things about how I am excited to see a blurry patch of light in a remote spot of the sky.

I hope to learn some fun things along the way and you are welcome to join me. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer, whether that involves explaining something I say (like jargon) or doing some research to find something out. Likewise, if you have fun facts, or see something I say that is wrong, or have more information on something I'm examining, feel free to comment! Now I think I'm gonna go take a shower and maybe take a peek outside after it gets dark.