If you would like FREE STAR CHARTS you can use all year, send me a self-addressed, stamped letter envelope. Mail it to Charles Whitney / 60 Bradford Rd./ Weston, MA 02493. There is a separate chart for northern and southern hemisphere. You may photocopy them for your friends, but not for sale!
A constellation is an accidental group of fairly bright stars that may be at vastly different distances from earth.
Their shapes have not changed noticeably in historical times.
Double stars are pairs of stars held together by gravity and orbit around each other.
January (Orion) February (Gemini) March (Cancer) April Leo) May (Big Bear) June (Bootes) July (Lyra) August (Cygnus) September (Pegasus) October (Cassiopeia) November (Perseus) December (Taurus)
The following table shows the brightest constellations in the
sky and indicates the date on which the constellation is highest
in the evening sky at about 9:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. daylight saving
time). The constellations may, however, usually be seen for several
months on either side of this date. If you look before the listed
date, you will find the constellation somewhat to the east at
9:00 p.m.; if you look after the date, the constellation will
be to the west at that time. Thus, you will see that the constellations
slowly westward as the weeks go by. This is a result of the Earth's
motion about the sun.
|NAME||ENGLISH NAME||EVENING VISIBILITY||MYTHOLOGY|
|Andromeda||Andromeda||NOV. 20||Chained woman; daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia.|
|Aquarius||Water Carrier||OCT. 5||--|
|Aquila||Eagle||AUG. 25||Armor-bearing bird of Jove.|
|Ara||Altar||JULY 25||Some say it represents one of the altars raised by Moses, others that it is the altar raised by Noah after the Deluge.|
|Aries||Ram||DEC. 10||Phrixus and his sister Helle fled his stepmother on the ram; Helle fell into the sea.|
|Bootes||Bear Driver||JUNE 10||--|
|Cancer||Crab||MAR. 15||Banished to the sky for pinching the toe of Hercules.|
|Canis Major||Larger Dog||FEB. 15||The dog of Orion.|
|Canis Minor||Smaller Dog||FEB. 25||Orion's second dog.|
|Capricornus||Sea Goat||SEPT. 20||The goat-footed Pan; turned part fish upon plunging into the Nile to escape the monster Typhon.|
|Carina||Keel||MAR. 10||The keel of the Argonauts' ship, NAVIS, of which Puppis is the stern and Vela is the sail.|
|Cassiopeia||Cassiopeia||NOV. 25||Wife of Cepheus.|
|Centaurus||Centaur||JUNE 10||A mythical beast consisting of a man down to the waist with the four legs of a horse.|
|Cepheus||Cepheus||OCT. 15||Father of the royal family.|
|Cetus||Whale||NOV. 30||Sent to devour Andromeda, Cetus turned to stone at the sight of Medusa's head in the hand of Perseus.|
|Corona||Crown||JUNE 30||Crown of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos.|
|Corvus||Crow||MAY 10||Sacred bird of Phoebus Apollo, who assumed bird's shape during battle.|
|Crater||Cup||APR. 30||The cup of Apollo.|
|Crux||Cross||MAY 10||The Southern Cross. Points toward the South Pole|
|Cygnus||Swan||SEPT. 10||Pet of Leda, the mother of Castor and Pollux, the Twins.|
|Delphinus||Dolphin||SEPT. 15||The sacred fish that induced Amphitrite to become the wife of Neptune.|
|Draco||Dragon||JULY 20||The snake snatched by Minerva from the giants and flung to the sky.|
Flowed into the Euxine Sea where Argonauts secured the golden fleece.
|Gemini||Twins||FEB. 20||Sons of Leda.|
|Grus||Crane||OCT. 15||Symbol of the ancient Egyptian star watchers.|
|Hercules||Hercules||JULY 15||Heroic laborer.|
|Hydra||Sea Serpent||SEPT. 9||Kept the crow away from Apollo's cup.|
|Leo||Lion||APR. 15||Slain by Hercules.|
|Lepus||Hare||JAN. 30||Pursued by Orion and his Great Dog.|
|Lyra||Lyre||AUG. 15||Instrument of Orpheus, the musician of the Argonauts.|
|Ophiuchus||Serpent Holder||JULY 20||Staff of Aesculapius, physician of the Argonauts.|
|Orion||Orion||JAN. 30||The hunter; placed in the sky opposite the Scorpion, by whose sting he was slain.|
|Pavo||Peacock||AUG. 25||Argos, builder of the ship of the Argonauts, was transformed to a peacock in the sky by the goddess Juno when she made a constellation of his ship. Symbol of immortality.|
|Pegasus||Pegasus||OCT. 30||Winged horse; born from the blood of Medusa's head, severed by Perseus.|
|Perseus||Perseus||DEC. 25||Rescued Andromeda, using Medusa's head to turn the Whale to stone.|
|Phoenix||Phoenix||NOV. 25||Mythical bird of the Egyptians, which repeatedly consumed itself by fire and then arose from its own ashes.|
|Piscis Austrinus||Fish||0CT. 15||Southern fish, oddly drinking water flowing from the urn of Aquarius.|
|Puppis||Stern||FEB. 20||Stern of the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts in search of the golden fleece.|
|Scorpius||Scorpion||JULY 15||Slayer of Orion, who sets when the Scorpion rises.|
|Taurus||Taurus||JAN. 20||The bull attacking Orion.|
|Ursa Major||Great Bear||MAY 10||Juno, jealous of Callisto, transformed her to a bear.|
|Ursa Minor||Little Bear||JUNE 20||--|
|Vela||Sail||MAR. 25||See Carina.|
|Virgo||Virgin||MAY 20||Proserpina, daughter of Ceres, abducted by Pluto.|
Many stars come in pairs or groups. Double stars visible to
the naked eye are not truly double, they merely look as though
they are, because of an accidental alignment. A test of eyesight
reportedly used by the Arabs is the pair of stars Mizar and Alcor,
second from the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. They are
separated by about 1/5 of a degree. Another good test of eyesight
is Alpha Capricornus, in the summer and autumn sky. This star
forms the upper right-hand tip of the crescent-shaped constellation
Capricornus. . The components are separated by 1/10 of a degree.
For more narrowly spaced double stars, it is convenient to measure separation in minutes of arc. One minute is 1/60 of a degree, and the best eyes can rarely separate two stars closer than three minutes of arc. One star that is right on the limit is epsilon Lyrae, next to Vega in the summer sky. The components are separated by 3.5 minutes and are equally bright. In a 5-inch telescope, this star is a remarkable sight, because each component can be seen as a double itself, making this a quadruple system.
The following table gives double stars that ought to be easily separated in a good pair of binoculars. These stars are truly double, that is, they are in gravitational orbit around a commmon center. In some cases, the companion is very faint and difficult to see. In order to locate them, you will need a good sky chart.
|NAME||MAG. BR||MAG. FNT||SEP. (Minutes)|
Most stars were originally formed in large clusters containing
hundreds or thousands of stars. The Pleiades ("Seven Sisters")
is the brightest example of a star cluster in our sky. It is known
to contain 500 stars, although only a handful are visible to the
naked eye. This is a nearby example of an "open" cluster,
and you will be able to find dozens more with a pair of binoculars,
if you sweep along the Milky Way. Another example is the double
cluster in the northern portion of the constellation Perseus.
Binoculars will reveal that there are two hazy clusters, but the
individual stars are too faint to be distinguished. This photo
shows the globular cluster M13 in Hercules.
Another type, the "globular" cluster, is tighter and more spherical. Unlike the open clusters, globular clusters avoid the Milky Way. They contain more than 100,000 stars and are the oldest systems known in our galaxy. Examples may be found in the constellations Centaurus, Tucana, Hercules, Canes Venatici, Sagittarius and Scorpius.
The Milky Way, from Sagittarius on southward, has many nebulous
patches of glowing gas, resembling cosmic neon signs. They are
difficult to see from the northern hemisphere. The Great Nebula
in Orion, however, is a fine example which can be seen from both
hemispheres in winter. The nebula can be spotted with a good pair
of binoculars, at the point indicated in this diagram. It is at
the middle of the "sword" hanging southward from Orion's
The Milky Way in the southern hemisphere is decorated with many nebula that can be seen in a telescope or good pair of binoculars. The nebula in the constellation Carina surrounding the star eta, is one of the finest examples, and it can be seen as a diffuse, orange spot of light. Another one is the Great Nebula in Orion, shown in this photo.
If you are tempted to "adopt a star", you should know it's a fund-raising gimmick. No one but you and the person who takes your money will know your name is attached to a star unless they publish the list somewhere. That is, there is no official astronomical catalogue with your name, nor is there any official sanction of the idea. I can't actually object to it, but you have to realize it is meaningless. If you want to do it, the best way would be to check with the planetariums; they are the ones who seem to get into this. You teachers could do it within the class: each student adopt a constellation and look up the mythology etc.