WEEKender hereby starts a new weekly column for all those astronomy buffs out there. Last weekend’s lunar eclipse gave us not only a bloody-good moon show, but it also produced quite a sizeable crowd of local night-sky fans. So with that in mind, here is what you can see this Saturday night, if the clouds allow. If you are star-gazing on Sunday night, each star rises about four minutes earlier than written here and the moon rises 50 minutes later.
Looking west, a bright star called Spica will follow the sun, setting about an hour after darkness falls. This “evening star” is often assumed to be Venus, but Venus is in its “morning star” position at present, leading the sun before dawn.
Looking South (towards Statia) just after sunset, we will see a bright star called Fomalhaut rising in southeast. Fomalhaut is known as the Loneliest Star and was made famous in astronomical science in 2008 when the Hubble Space Telescope photographed that it had a planet, the first photographic evidence of a planet outside our solar system.
The early-night northern sky offers Arcturus in the WNW, but it will set by 6:30pm. Around 8:45pm, the Pleiades (or “seven sisters”) will rise in the Northeast; and about an hour and 15 minutes later, Taurus climbs the sky from East-Northeastern horizon.
The bright star Antares will be high in the Southwestern sky in the evening hours. Antares is the eye of the scorpion in the constellation Scorpio. Between Fomalhaut and Antares, stretching across the sky, you may be able to see a hazy zone: the Milky Way (called by some aboriginal people the “Backbone of the Night”).
Around midnight, Orion the hunter will rise from the eastern horizon. Orion is one of the easiest constellations to spot, notable by three bright stars in a row. Saturday night will find this three-star “belt of the hunter” arranged vertically, with Orion’s “toe” pointing southeast, the very bright star Rigel. His shoulder is marked by another bright star, Betelgeuse (yes, it’s pronounced “Beetle Juice”).
Along Orion’s belt, one can spot three smaller stars in a row, pointing down, this is his knife. The middle star of the knife is not a star at all, but a nebula, or gas cloud. If you have binoculars or a telescope, this is a good thing to try to see the difference between a star and a nebula.
About 2:00am, Sirius, the “Dog Star” rises in the southeast, just as Fomalhaut begins to sink towards the western horizon. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, although not as bright as the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and at times, Mars.
Throughout the night, Cassiopea, the queen on her throne, reigns high in the northern sky, slowly circling around the Little Dipper whose tail, the star Polaris, always marks due north.