Eyes On The Sky – This Month in Astronomy – June 2011

May 31, 2011 at 10:07 am | Posted in Astronomy, Regular Feature, Science News | 2 Comments
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The Lonely Shepherd

Quick!  Name a constellation.  Which one comes to mind?  The Big Dipper?  Leo?  The Gemini twins?  Orion?  Perhaps Draco the Dragon or Perseus?  Hercules the Hero?  The teapot-shaped Sagittarius?  Cassiopeia? Or maybe the beautiful Andromeda?

Ask people to make a list of constellations they know or have at least heard of, and the name  Boötes probably wouldn’t appear in the top 10.  Or even the top 20.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t appear on most people’s lists at all.  It is without a doubt one of the most overlooked, most forgotten of the modern constellation.  A lonely shepherd wandering the skies.

Boötes (pronounced boh-OH-teez) is a prominent constellation in the late Spring and early Summer.   Although it seems to have fallen into obscurity with the passage of time, it is one of the oldest constellations ever documented and has a variety of myths and legend associated with it.  An Arab legend sees the circumpolar stars as a flock of sheep and Boötes as their shepherd. Other early civilizations in the Mediterranean and Middle East saw Boötes as a herdsman, cart driver, or plowman.  Greek mythology had several references to the constellation.  In some legends it represented the son of Zeus and a nymph, Callisto.  Homer referred to Boötes in his epic story The Odyssey.   And some of civilization’s earliest star-charts show Boötes as a running figure holding a spear.

To modern star-gazers like us, Boötes is easily recognized as the shape of a kite with its bright Alpha star Arcturus anchoring the constellation at the point of the kite where the tail is attached. Arcturus is a red giant star only 36 light-years away from our own humble home.  It is the fourth brightest star in our night sky.

The easiest way to locate the constellation is to locate Arcturus using a favourite star-hopping phrase:  Arc to Arcturus!  How do you Arc to Arcturus?  Locate the Big Dipper which is directly overhead in our June sky. Follow the handle’s arc shape past the last star, straight on through to the brightest star you can spot along the line of that imaginary arc, and you’ll have found Arcturus. From there, the rest of the constellation should be easy to assemble: the body of the kite shape comprised of the five stars above Arcturus, as well as the tail of the kite – one star on Arcturus’s either side.

Other Heavenly Happenings

The constellation Boötes is the radiant point of a meteor shower this month.  While not one of the showiest of meteor showers, the best viewing for this herd of shooting stars will be the early hours of the morning June 27th and 28th.

For those who own a telescope, Saturn is a sight to behold this season as our view of the gaps between the planet’s rings becomes more prominent.  For those without a telescope, Saturn – though a distant planet – is definitely visible to the naked eye. Through June it appears in the constellation Virgo, to the right of Virgo’s alpha star Spica (pronounced spEE-kah).  To find Spica, use the star-hopping technique you used to Arc to Arcturus.  Continue the arc down toward the south-west horizon and Speed on to Spica.

Finally, the planetary summit which gathered on the low Eastern Horizon in May is coming to an end.  Jupiter will break away from the group and start a dramatic ascent throughout June.  If you are late to bed or an early riser, look for this spectacular point of light in the Eastern sky a few hours before sunrise.  It will be unmistakable and breathtaking.  No matter the season, the King of Planets never fails to put on a show!

by Myri Antilles for Roqoo Depot – All The Latest Star Wars and Real Stars News

2 Comments »

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  1. Arc to Arcturus! Alright, now I’m going to have to take advantage of the first clear night sky I get so I can find this one. I always thought it was fun picking out constellations.

  2. Star-hopping is indeed great fun. The night sky is one gigantic connect-the-dots game. I just came in from my backyard, being blessed with a lovely clear night here. Arcturus is very easy to find, once you know how. Happy stargazing! Let me know how it goes. :)


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