Constellations of Spring Help (page 2)
Other Circumpolar Constellations
Constellations Of Spring
Besides the circumpolar constellations, there are certain star groups that are characteristic of the evening sky in spring in the northern hemisphere. The season of spring is 3 months long, and even if you live in the so-called temperate zone, your latitude might vary. Thus, to get ourselves at a happy medium, let’s envision the sky in the middle of April, a couple of hours after sunset at the latitude of Lake Tahoe, Indianapolis, or Washington, D.C. (approximately 39° N).
Libra is near the east-southeastern horizon. It has the general shape of a trapezoid (Fig. 2-7) if you look up at it facing toward the east-southeast. Libra is supposed to represent the scales of justice. This constellation is faint and once was considered to be part of Scorpio, the scorpion.
Virgo , the virgin, is fairly high in the southeastern sky. It has an irregular shape, something like a letter Y with a hooked tail (Fig. 2-8) if you look up at it facing toward the southeast. Virgo contains the bright star Spica .
Leo , the lion, is just south of the zenith. This constellation is dominated by the bright star Regulus . If you stand facing south and crane your neck until you’re looking almost straight up, you might recognize this constellation by its Sphinx-like shape (Fig. 2-9).
Cancer And Canis Minor
Cancer , the crab, stands high in the southwestern sky. If you stand facing southwest and look up at an elevation about 70 degrees, you’ll see a group of stars that resembles an upside-down Y (Fig. 2-10). In ancient mythology, Cancer was the cosmic gate through which souls descended to Earth to occupy human bodies. Next to Cancer is Canis Minor , the little dog, which contains the prominent star Procyon .
Gemini is moderately high in the western sky. This constellation has the general shape of a tall, thin, squared-off letter U if you stand facing west and look up at it (Fig. 2-11). At the top of the U are the prominent stars Castor and Pollux , named after the twin sons of Zeus, the most powerful of the ancient Greek gods. If you use your imagination, you might see Castor facing toward the left, with Pollux right behind him. The bright stars must be their left eyes.
Just to the right of Gemini is the constellation Auriga . It has the shape of an irregular pentagon (Fig. 2-12) as you face west-northwest and look upward about 30 degrees from the horizon. Auriga contains the bright star Capella . In ancient mythology, this constellation represented the king of Athens driving a four-horse chariot. Presumably, Capella is the king, and the four lesser stars are the horses.
Turn around and look toward the east-northeast, just above the horizon. You will see a complex of stars, none of them bright, forming a trapezoid with limbs (Fig. 2-13). This is the constellation Hercules , representing a man of legendary strength and endurance. In the sky, he faces Draco, the dragon. These two cosmic beings are engaged in a battle that has been going on for millennia and will continue to rage for ages to come. Who will win? No one knows, but eventually, as the stars in our galaxy wander off in various directions, both these old warriors will fade away. Hercules contains one of the most well-known star clusters in the heavens, known as M13 (this is a catalog number).
Looking slightly higher in the sky, just behind Hercules, you will see a group of several stars that form a backward C or horseshoe shape. These stars form the constellation Corona Borealis , the northern crown (Fig. 2-14). This is the head ornament that was worn by Ariadne, a princess of Crete. According to the legends, the Greek god Dionysis threw the crown up into the sky to immortalize the memory of Ariadne.
Just above the northern crown you will see a bright star at an elevation of about 45 degrees, directly east or a little south of east. This is Arcturus . If you use your imagination, you might see that this star forms the point where a fish joins its tail; the fish appears to be swimming horizontally (Fig. 2-15). This constellation, Bootes , does not represent a fish but a herdsman. His job, in legend, is to drive Ursa Major, the great bear, forever around the north pole.
Between Bootes and Ursa Major there is a group of three rather dim stars (shown in Fig. 2-15 along with their master). These are Bootes’ hunting dogs, Canes Venatici , who snap at the heels of Ursa Major and keep the big bear moving. One might argue that according to myth, our planet owes its rotation, at least in part, to a couple of cosmic hounds.
Corvus, Crater, And Hydra
A large portion of the spring evening sky is occupied by three constellations consisting of relatively dim stars. These are Corvus , also known as the crow, Crater , also called the cup, and Hydra , the sea serpent or water snake (Fig. 2-16). It is not too hard to imagine how Hydra got its name, and one might with some effort strain to imagine Crater as a cup. But Corvus is a fine example of a constellation that looks nothing like the mythological creature or object it represents.