By Carold Lee Lutsinger, Special to the Star
Remember May Day baskets left on front doorknobs? When you are out for that early evening run, gather a few stars for an imaginary basket. They are not fragrant, but they are colorful, as well as long-lasting. If the sun has set by the time you head out, then you will be able to enjoy the view in panorama. Since main streets generally head east-west and north/south, this gives a perfect starting point of reference. Morning walks made before sunrise are just as filled with stars as an evening one and are usually cooler as well.
Getting your bearings is a simple matter of being able to know in which part of the sky you see sunrise and sunset; the other directions fall into place. Stand with your right shoulder where the sun rises and the left where it sets. Then your nose is pointed north-unless you are looking over your shoulder for a four-leafed clover.
Looking east in the predawn morning reveals the Summer Triangle asterism putting in an early appearance in the morning sky so that you don’t have to wait for July to enjoy the trio of constellations comprising the asterism. Asterisms are additional patterns of stars that lie within traditional constellations that form a secondary group. In the case of the Summer Triangle, the constellations are Lyra the Lyre/harp, Cygnus the Swan, and Aquila the Eagle. The brightest stars within each constellation, Vega, Deneb, and Altair, form a triangle.
Vega (VEE-guh) is a blue-white, main sequence star in the same class as winter’s champion, Sirius. It is about three times larger than our sun and is about 27 light years away from Earth. Lyra is (LYE-ruh) will appear as a small trapezoid of mostly faint stars. It is sometimes mistaken for the Little Dipper or the Pleiades by folks unfamiliar with which constellations will be where and when.
Deneb is also a brilliant super giant blue-white star, sixty thousand times more luminous than our sun, appearing less bright because it is 1600 light years away with a mass of 25 times that of the sun. Scientists expect this type of star to exhaust their energy in a “few million years” before swelling up into a red giant star.
Cygnus, the home location of Deneb, resembles a cross and is also called the Northern Cross, certainly appropriate to be in the sky during this time of the year. Scanning the Swan with binoculars will reveal myriad stars forming the Milky Way. The Galactic Equator lies along the Swan.
Besides the Summer Triangle constellations/stars, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are arranged in a shallow arc from the middle of the southern sky view back toward the east. If streetlights or other light pollution are not hindering your star gazing, Mars looks distinctly orange while Saturn gleams in a soft ivory. Jupiter is the big guy on the block and would only be bested in brightness by the Moon, or Venus, or Sirius.
The South Texas Astronomical Society is embarking on seeking a dark skies protocol for Brownsville. If some of the measures are adopted across the Rio Grande Valley we would be able to see far more in our night sky at a reduction of expense for wasteful lighting that mainly heads skyward instead of towards the ground. Hats off to this ambitious fledgling organizationand its youthful leadership with their great vision and lots of scope of their imagination. Check them out on Facebook.http://starsocietyrgv.org/initiatives/dark-sky
Until next week, KLU.