On Saturday, Nov. 2 our next “Gateway to the Stars” presentation will feature the prime guidepost to the Autumn skies: “The Great Square of Pegasus.” Of course Pegasus (The Winged Horse) may sound familiar because of its connection to the famous Greek legend of Andromeda and Perseus (including the cast of Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cetus). You might also remember those names from the movie “Clash of the Titans” (Hollywood’s attempt to emulate the famous story).
Four of the brightest stars of the flying horse make up the well known asterism called “The Great Square of Pegasus” and makes for an excellent pointer to other stars and deep sky objects in the region. Knowing exactly where to look is important when scanning for distant objects that require a telescope. One such example near the nose of the horse is “M15″ (Messier’s catalog number for the Pegasus Cluster, a beautiful example of a globular star cluster).
One of the corner stars of the “Great Square” is shared with Andromeda. Alpheratz also represents the Maiden’s head. From there, we’ll use the pattern of Andromeda‘s stars to find the most distant object visible to the naked eye, the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). It’s our sister spiral galaxy in space, and even though it lies over 2.5 million light years away, it shows up easily in binoculars as a fuzzy oval of light with a brighter blob in its core. What you’re seeing is actually the collective light of at least 400 billion suns woven together into a spiral shaped island universe in our Local Group of Galaxies.
Also of interest in November are the constellations of Cassiopeia and Perseus. Close to Andromeda in the sky, these are the home to many beautiful open star clusters. The Double Cluster in Perseus and the Owl Cluster in Cassiopeia can both be seen in binoculars.
And speaking of owls, if you like to stay up a little bit late, look just a little north of east at midnight and you should see three bright stars. The two to the north (running almost vertically up from the horizon) are Pollux and Castor, the heads of Gemini the Twins. However, the brighter one below them and to the right (more due east) is the planet Jupiter! It won’t be twinkling as much as the stars since its disk-like appearance pierces through the atmosphere with a more steady light than the pinpoint stars. If midnight is too late to wait to see this gas giant planet, just wait until January when it will be high in the south in the early evening!
Join us at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, November 2 under our new Digistar 5 sky for a fabulous new way to observe (and travel through) the skies. Tickets are just $2. Members are free.