February 6, 2019
High above the Pacific Northwest lies a star filled sky with bright stars, fleeting comets and planets. While city light can sometimes make it hard to spot stars, if you look hard enough you can usually find a few constellations. If you can, head out of the city for a truly spectacular show.
In the winter, the most prominent constellation is Orion, the Hunter. This one is easily spotted by looking towards the southwest for a band of three stars which represent Orion’s belt. To the upper right of the belt is Bellatrix, a bright blue star as Orion’s left shoulder and to the left is Betelgeuse, an enormous orange star which represents his right shoulder.
Look a bit longer to find Orion’s sword which hands from his belt. This one might appear a bit fuzzy as two of the three stars which make up the sword are not single stars. Trapezium and the Orion Nebula are groupings of gas and stars.
Orion’s two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor are nearby. Look out from Orion’s belt to the left for SIrius, the head of Canis Major and also the brightest star in the night sky. Just above Betelgeuse (Orion’s right shoulder) is Procyon, the head of Canis Minor. Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse together form the quasi constellation known as the Winter Triangle.
If you look right from Orion’s belt, one can see a cluster of stars – the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. This constellation is named after a Native American legend of young women who climbed into the sky to avoid angry bears. Six stars of the Pleiades can usually be seen but on an exceptionally clear night, one can see up to 14 stars by using binoculars.
The summer sky offers bright constellations in multitude. Start by locating three bright starts that make an isosceles triangle over half the night sky. Each star marks a major constellation.
The most visible of the three is Vega which is part of the constellation Lyra. The next star, Altar is in Aquila and the last star is Deneb which is part of Cygnus. Cygnus contains the Northern Cross which form the body and shoulders of the swan.
Summer skies also show off The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with the North Star along with the two bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Looking to explore the night skies more, check out the stargazing parties held by the Seattle Astronomical Society at Greenlake and Rattlesnake Ledge. The NASA website is also a great resource to see if any significant celestial events are coming up.
by Rebecca Mongrain