This month’s installment of Gateway to the Stars will take place in the Hansen Dome Theatre on Saturday, June 11 at 6:45 p.m. instead of the normal first Saturday of the month. That’s because our annual Racing to the Stars fundraising event will be on that first Saturday, June 4.
So what’s special for this month? The Big Dipper is high in the sky, which makes it the best guidepost for “star hopping.” Star Hopping is the popular technique for jumping from one star or star pattern to another, and is much easier than trying to learn the stars by identifying “constellations” (the mythological figures). And, with the Big Dipper in its highest position, we can use the curve of its three handle stars to “Arc to Arcturus” and then “Spike to Spica.”
These are the kinds of phrases that help us to remember our star hops. Following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle outward curves us to a bright orange star in Bootes, the Herdsman. Called Arcturus, it’s the fourth brightest star in the night sky, over 36 light years away. And if you keep the curve going further south, you’ll find Spica, the brightest star in Virgo the Goddess of Harvest, a “blue giant” star over 12,000 times more luminous than our sun.
Star hopping also allows you to pinpoint targets in the sky for your binoculars and telescopes. For example, we’ll show you how a simple star hop from Arcturus can get you to M3, a beautifully rich globular cluster holding hundreds of thousands of stars. Or how another hop from Spica can point out M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, another island of stars like the Milky Way over 30 million light years away.
Another wonderful sight for telescopes of any size is the planet Saturn. Its rings can be seen even in small telescopes with as little as 30 power (30X normal size). Located above Spica, we’ll show you a handy star hop for Saturn as well. Star hops for the planets eventually change because they are the “wanderers,” other worlds orbiting the sun.
So come and join us June 11 for Gateway to the Stars! We’ll also give you a preview of what the summer will bring as the weather gets warmer and we get to spend more time in the great outdoors. No telescopes required!