LOOK UP AT NIGHT BUT DON’T FALL IN A HOLE
I will be writing a monthly article about the amazing and beautiful stars and other objects in the night sky. I’m excited about that! I will describe objects that can be seen with just your eyes or with binoculars. No need for telescopes.
For August I’d like to interest you in the giant star Arcturus. It is the major star of the group of stars named Bootes. One Greek tradition considers Bootes as “ox-driver,” or “herdsman.”
It looks kite-shaped in the sky.
Bootes can be easily found by first finding the Big Dipper in the northwest night sky. It hangs by its handle, with the bowl of the dipper pouring to the right. Some folks claim that this is the explanation for all the rain. That explanation is doubtful, but the handle is useful for finding Arcturus. Follow its curve to the west or follow the arc to Arcturus.
Arcturus is a fun star to know about. It is a giant star, yellow-orange in color. Its light takes 36 years to get here, making it one of the closest stars to our sun and solar system. Most stars are hundreds of thousands of light-years distant. So Arcturus is pretty close.
But it is a rascal star. It is actually running away from us. If we could return to see our night sky in 10,000 years, Arcturus would be far from its place that we see now. Picture a parent chasing a naughty child that is hard to catch. Yes, Arcturus is like a naughty child.
The name “Arcturus” means in Greek, “Bear Guardian.” It was thought to be following the Big Bear (Ursa Magor) through the sky.
The Big Dipper is just a part of the Big Bear. The Big Bear is really a cluster of several hundreds of stars. Most of these stars are rather dim and hard to see. But the fun thing to consider is that our own sun is possibly an outlying star of the Big Bear Cluster, a star that has wandered about 80 light years from the Cluster.
That’s all for August. Catch Arcturus and its constellation Bootes before they sink into the western horizon.
(James Lewis is a member of “Stars Are Us” Star Club.)