Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stars and Planets

I went out tonight to find the sky crystal clear. The stars and planets were brilliant. Venus and Jupiter, dazzling in the western sky, are nearing their closest conjunction in years. Saturn moves low across the southern sky, and Mars rises in the east and glows like an ember amidst the glittering host.

Orion was striding right over our house, but I couldn't find a suitable stand for the camera to get a full shot.

Then there was the Big Dipper, the first constellation I became aware of as a child. It still holds a fascination for me, so big and so omnipresent. So rich in lore and fable. So comforting somehow.

I learned something about the Big Dipper that I had never known before, thanks to EarthSky.


If you look at the star Mizar in the Big Dipper’s handle, do you see just one star or two? An ancient eye test for those wishing to join the Roman army involved spotting Alcor next to it. If you passed, you got a job as an archer. If you failed, you had to serve in another capacity … perhaps as a cook?

I looked tonight, and I could see Alcor. But that was with the aid of my specs, so I would have had to be content to serve Caesar in some less glamorous role than archer. Perhaps provider of fish.

But here's the kicker. The famous double star of Mizar and Alcor are actually six stars. Now that's an eye test. Read about it here.


  1. I had never heard that about Alcor...absolutely fascinating...I'll have to try on the next clear night. However I'm fairly certain I would have been a cook, bespectacled as I am. ;)

  2. I'm sure you're a good cook, but I could use some help being fish provider.