Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

The fun of finding your ‘sign’ among the stars

Posted on March 01 2009 at 7:05:23 0 comments

With Venus disappearing into the sunset, another bright object appears low in the south during March. This is Sirius, the brightest star you can see and one of the closest to us at a mere 6.8 light years. It is a very hot star, twice as big as our sun and very blue.

Whatever your feelings about astrology, I always think it’s great to be able to pick out your “star sign” in the sky. Mine is Taurus, easily visible as a V of stars, including the very red Aldebaran, above and to the right of Orion (see last issue) halfway to the cluster of stars called the Seven Sisters or Pleiades.

Taurus also contains a cluster of stars, called Hyades, just visible in the V below Aldebaran. Now Taurus could possibly look a bit like a bull’s head but, unfortunately, most of the zodiacal constellations don’t look much like the figures they are supposed to represent.

To find the next one, Gemini, start at the bottom right star of Orion, called Rigel, take a line up to the top left star, Betelgeuse, and keep going nearly twice as far and you come to a pair of stars, one above and slightly right of the other.

These are Castor and Pollux, the mythological twins beloved of many schoolboys. With a clear sky and after allowing time for your eyes to adjust to the dark (which can take 20 minutes), you can just make out the two lines of stars trailing down and to the right, which make up the bodies of the Gemini twins.

The foot of the lower one ends in a pair of stars looking very similar to Castor and Pollux but not as bright. Don’t confuse the two. Now, taking a line to the left of Gemini, about as far as Orion is to the right, you come to an inverted “hook” of stars.

This is the head of Leo the lion and if you study it for a while, I think you can really see a sort of lion statue standing proudly in the sky.

Halfway between Gemini and Leo is Cancer but it is a very indistinct inverted Y of stars and not at all obvious. Sorry Cancerians.

All these star formations straddle the line in the sky followed by the sun, called the Ecliptic. As the Moon and planets all lie in the same flat plane, they also will always be found close to this line.

So it is, that in the south east, just below Leo, we are beginning to get a good view of the planet Saturn, looking quite yellow and obviously a planet.

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