Looking for some free entertainment in August, the only month that has no national celebrations or holidays? First you have to go a few miles west of I35 to avoid light pollution. With some cold watermelon and a few lawn chairs have a seat in a friend’s front yard – let him know you’re there first – and look skyward. What you’re seeing is order, not chaos. What you see there is not much different from what astronomers saw 5000 to 3000 years ago. King David of Israel wrote Psalm 19 looking at the same thing you are seeing now. It begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands…”
To enjoy the spectacle begin by finding the Big Dipper (everyone should know this from the 1st grade on). It’s almost right overhead. Follow the curve of the handle slightly more than one more handle length and you’ll see Arcturus. In 1893 Chicago had its first World Fair. Their second World Fair was in 1933. It was estimated that Arcturus was 40 light years from earth so it was appropriate, some deemed, to open the 1933 World’s Fair with the light that left the star at the time of the first World Fair. And that they did – with the newly invented photocell.
Follow that curve another handle length and you’ll see Spica, the major star of Virgo. It’s actually a double star with one 4 times the size of the sun and the other 7.8 times. They revolve around each other.
Now the real fun begins.
In a straight line to the east you’ll see three bright objects forming a perfect isosceles triangle (think arrowhead shape) lying on its side. The object at the apex is Mars and the two at the base are Saturn and Antares, Saturn being the upper one and Antares the lower. Antares is a giant red star and is the “heart” of Scorpio. Scorpio is one of the most obvious summertime constellations because it’s so discernable with the sighting of that hooked tail slightly farther to the east and downward.
Behind Scorpio (to the east again) is Sagittarius, the archer, whose pentagon defines the constellation. The mythology of Greece has Sagittarius as an centaur with an arrow nocked in a drawn bow aiming at the heart of Scorpio in revenge for Scorpio’s killing of Orion, the hunter. The gods put Orion in the opposite side of the night sky as the finest of the wintertime constellations to protect him from future Scorpio predations.
Once again find the arrowhead on its side with Mars at the apex. A month ago the three main stars of Scorpio’s pincers formed a belt across the arrowhead in the same manner as Orion’s belt. But as Mars travels to the east the belt is slipping over tip of the arrowhead. The point of the arrowhead lines up again with Spica and equidistantly points to Jupiter, far to the west.
The moon is waning and becoming an obstacle yet these things can still be seen best around 10pm.
This is good family time, and something the kids will never regret that you showed them. For the rest of their lives they’ll remember these times whenever they gaze at the night time sky. That’s part of the legacy you leave them without the TV and the video games.
Ray Wolbrecht is retired from his dental practice in Kyle. He still reads his emails and his newspapers.