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Winter Star Patterns in the Sky

This article appeared in the March 7, 2014 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise

 

Everyone is invited to the Saturday, March 8, 2014, meeting of the Davis Astronomy Club at Explorit Science Center (3141 5th Street, Davis) starting at 7 pm. All ages are welcome to attend the featured presentation indoors, followed by the star party outdoors (weather permitting) where we will also view Jupiter and deep sky objects such as Orion Nebula and Pleiades.

 

This month we will focus on the Winter Triangle and Winter Hexagon asterisms. An asterism is an easily identifiable pattern of stars in the night sky that may be part of one or more constellations. Even though stars in an asterism (or a constellation) appear to be grouped together, they are often at significantly different distances from Earth.

 

The Winter Triangle and Winter Hexagon are prominently displayed in the sky from December through March, with the Milky Way visible through them. At the vertices of these geometric shapes are some of the brightest stars visible in the sky. Also each star in the asterism is part of a different winter constellation.

 

The Winter Triangle is comprised of the stars Betelgeuse (in Orion constellation), Sirius (in Canis Major constellation), and Procyon (in Canis Minor constellation). The stars in the Winter Hexagon, viewed counterclockwise, are Rigel (in Orion), Aldebaran (in Taurus constellation), Capella (in Auriga constellation), Pollux (in Gemini constellation), Procyon, and Sirius. The Winter Triangle is located inside the Winter Hexagon, and stars Sirius and Procyon are common to both asterisms.

 

The Orion (The Hunter) constellation helps locate the Winter Triangle and Winter Hexagon. It is the second most identifiable star grouping in the sky (after the Big Dipper) and is visible throughout the world as it lies on the celestial equator. For northern latitude observers, Orion is prominently visible in the night sky from late fall to early spring.

 

Orion’s most recognizable feature is a straight line of three bright stars forming the Hunter’s belt. The various recognizable stars in Orion point to the numerous stars in the Winter Triangle and Winter Hexagon:  blue white Sirius, orange Aldebaran, Procyon, blue Rigel, red Betelgeuse, Pollux, and yellow Capella.

 

There are bright and beautiful nebulae associated with Orion too. Orion Nebula (M42), one of the brightest nebulae in the sky, is the fuzzy middle ‘star’ of the three stars that form Orion’s sword. This beautiful diffuse nebula, 30 light years across, is visible to the naked eye and contains the Trapezium, a grouping of four very young stars. Pleiades (M45 or Seven Sisters), brightest and most beautiful open star cluster containing bright middle-age stars, is visible with unaided eyes.

 

Learn about these fascinating asterisms at the Davis Astronomy Club meeting.

 

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Explorit’s coming events:

 

  • Explorit’s Beautiful World: Science and Art exhibition is open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. and every Friday, 3:00-6:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.
  • Birthdays are back at Explorit!  Call Explorit at 530-756-0191 for more information or to book your party.
  • Summer Science Camp is coming!  Registration opens Monday, March 17.  Camp titles, a full schedule and all the details are coming soon to www.explorit.org.
  • NanoDays is coming to Explorit for spring break March 24-28.  Save the dates!

 

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Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

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