“Gateway to the Stars” – Pegasus and Andromeda!

Mike Murray

On Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 our next “Gateway to the Stars” presentation will feature the central region of the Autumn skies; the constellations of Pegasus (The Winged Horse) and Andromeda (The Chained Maiden). You might remember those names from the movie “Clash of the Titans” but they also represent one of the oldest and most famous legends of Greek mythology.

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 guidepost to other stars and deep sky objects for binoculars and telescopes. One such example is “M15″ (Messier’s catalog number for the Pegasus Cluster, a beautiful example of a globular star cluster).

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

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 univese in our Local Group of Galaxies.

Also of interest in November, is that the planet Jupiter is back! The largest planet of our solar system is currently at opposition, putting it at its closest approach to Earth. It’s easy to find in the sky - a couple of hours after the sun sets in the west, watch for Jupiter to rise in the east (hence the name “opposition” because it appears opposite of the sun in the sky). That also means this the best time for telescope viewers because it will be even easier to see the two dark cloud bands running near Jupiter’s equator. If you give the planet more time to climb higher into the sky, the visibility of those cloud belts (and others) will become even easier to see because the planet is rising above the murky pollution and thicker air that deteriorates seeing conditions down there.

Join us at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, November 5, 2011 under our new Digistar 4 sky for a fabulous new way to observe the skies! Tickets are just $1. Members are free.

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