Jon U. Bell

Sky Watch Host

Ways to Connect

Tonight the nearly full moon appears in the east at sunset. As darkness sets in, you’ll find that our nearest neighbor in space has some company – the planet Jupiter. There it is, a very bright star to the right of the moon. Along with Jupiter and the moon there is another star below them - it is Spica in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. One indicator of distance in space is brightness, although it isn’t entirely reliable. Some objects are just naturally brighter than others, but in the case of the moon, Jupiter and Spica, this method works.

Watch the sun and you’ll discover it gets around. But of course you can’t watch the sun, because it’s too bright to look at without hurting your eyes. If you could somehow dim down the sun enough, you could also see the stars in the sky at the same time. (Actually, there are times when this happens – during total solar eclipses.)Assuming you could see the sun and stars at the same time, you’d notice the sun drifts eastward like the moon, although not as fast as the moon. The moon moves 13 degrees a day; the sun only moves about 1 degree a day.

This is the Astronomers Alphabet. Today’s letter is “E.” “E” stands for “Earth” and “Ecliptic;” the ecliptic is the earth’s orbital path “E” means “Ellipse,” which is the shape of pretty much every orbit, including the Earth’s.

Can you identify the thirtieth largest constellation in the sky? It is bordered on the north by Lynx the Bobcat and Auriga the Charioteer; on the east by Cancer the Crab; on the south by Canis Minor the Lesser Dog and Monoceros the Unicorn; and on the west by Orion the Hunter and Taurus the Bull. This constellation was created thousands of years ago, and its brightest stars seem to trace out a long rectangle in the heavens. In the Middle East, these stars were seen as a stack of bricks, but in Italy, they  represented Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.