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What's Up...The stars of fall–take a look PDF Print E-mail

By Vernon Whetstone

Amateur Astronomer


I am discovering more and more about myself as I age, apparently not so gracefully. Not only can I not read, but I can’t type and quite possibly I am dyslexic.

What I am referring to is the note in last week’s column about the next full Moon on Halloween.

The date I mentioned was 2010. Well, that obviously is not the case. What it should have said is the year 2020. Now, we all have something to look forward to.

The autumn temperatures have set in for good, so how about some quick looks outside for sine major stars of the fall?

Let’s start high in the southeast at about 8 p.m. MDT to find very bright Jupiter. The King of the Planets can’t be missed, it is the brightest object in the area.

Now, drop your gaze down and slightly right to due south to find our old friend, the loneliest star in the sky, first magnitude Fomalhaut. It is the only star visible in that area.

Fomalhaut is the brightest star in a constellation named Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish (no relation to the zodiacal constellation Pisces). It is an ancient star recognized as one of the fou r Royal stars of Babylon.

Now turn right to look about halfway up the western sky for the Summer Triangle. The bright star on the right is Vega. Please note that Vega and Fomalhaut are both about 25 light-years away from us.

You will see that Vega is the brighter of the two. It puts out more light being about 20 times brighter.

Now, back to the Summer Triangle and look for the top star, Deneb. It is the tail of Cygnus the Swan. It puts out about 54,000 times the light our Sun does, but it is about 1,500 light years away.

The triangle star lower on the left is Altair, the eye of Aquila the Eagle residing 17 light-years away.

Ready for another one? Turn around and look northeast for Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, the Charioteer. It is just above the horizon. The constellation looks like a rounded rectangle with Capella on the upper left corner.

We were in Auriga a couple of weeks ago looking for a comet. There are three nice Messier objects there that can be located with binoculars.

Capella is about 42 light-years away from Earth and is about the same temperature as our Sun, however, Capella is a double star. Two yellow giants that orbit each other every 104 days. They are too close for telescopes to resolve them.

One more, from Capella turn right to just above the eastern horizon for red giant Aldebaran. It is located about 65 light-years away in Taurus, the Bull. With binoculars look for the Hyades star cluster all around Aldebaran.

The cluster is located twice as far from Earth as the star and make a nice background view.

Now then, there are six nice first magnitude stars that can be bagged in a little more than 15-minutes. Now, back inside for a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Much thanks to the McDonald Observatory located at the University of Texas at Austin for inspiration and some of the information in this column.

One more thing, I would be greatly remiss if I did not mention Sunday, Nov. 7, is Carl Sagen Day. Dr. Sagen did more to popularize astronomy than many others. He is the author of the book Cosmos which gave life to the terrific television program of the same name.

He is also the author of the book Contact which resulted in a movie of the same name. In honor of his day find your way to your favorite movie/TV program browsing or rental site and look up Cosmos and Contact and enjoy Carl Sagen day.


SKY WATCH: New Moon Saturday, Nov. 6.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.