Constellations of Winter Help
Constellations of Winter—Canis Major and Lepus
Canis Major And Lepus
The southern portion of the winter evening sky is dominated by Canis Major, the big dog, and Lepus, the rabbit (Fig. 2-27.) Canis Major is easy to spot because of the brilliant white star, Sirius , that appears in the south-southeast. This is the brightest star in the whole sky, and its name in fact means “scorching.” Because it is contained in Canis Major, Sirius is often called the Dog Star.
Somewhat above and to the right of Sirius you will see another winter landmark, Orion , the hunter. It’s not hard to imagine how ancient people saw a human form in this constellation (Fig. 2-28). Three stars in the middle of Orion represent the hunter’s belt, from which hangs a knife or sword consisting of several dimmer stars. If you look at Orion’s sword with good binoculars or a wide-aperture telescope at low magnification, you will see the Great Nebula in Orion , a vast, glowing cloud of gas and dust in which new stars are being born. Orion contains two bright stars of its own, Betelgeuse (also spelled Betelgeux ), a red giant, and Rigel , a blue-white star.
Taurus And The Pleiades
Above Orion, only a few degrees from the zenith in the southern sky on winter evenings, is Taurus , the bull (Fig. 2-29). This constellation contains the bright star Aldebaran , which represents the eye of the bull. Near Taurus is a group of several stars known as the Pleiades , or seven sisters (although there are really far more than seven of them). When seen through binoculars, these stars appear shrouded in gas and dust, indicating that they are young and that new members are being formed as gravity causes the material to coalesce.
Beginning at the feet of Orion and winding its way to the southern horizon and thence into unknown realms is a string of relatively dim stars. This constellation is Eridanus , the river. It, like Cetus, the whale, contains a star that is thought by many scientists to have a solar system like ours. That star, known as Epsilon Eridani , has been the subject of science fiction stories for this reason.
Practice problems of this concept can be found at: Stars and Constellations Practice Problems
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