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A lifelong amateur astronomer, Phil Harrington was bitten by the "astronomical bug" when he was assigned to watch the total lunar eclipse of April 1968 as a homework assignment. Since then , Phil has spent countless hours touring the universe through telescopes and binoculars.
Phil is probably most familiar to amateur astronomers for his books, including: TOURING THE UNIVERSE THROUGH BINOCULARS, STAR WARE, and STAR WATCH. Phil is also a contributing editor for Astronomy magazine, where he frequently reviews telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomical equipment, as well as authors observing features. Phil also authored the magazine's monthly Binocular Universe column from 2005-2009. In June 2009, his popular column moved to Cloudynights.com.
Each month, Binocular Universe will visit some of the many wonders of the night sky that are visible through a simple pair of binoculars. Some of the sights may be familiar, while others may be brand new. And if you spot something along the way that you would like to see mentioned in a future column, be sure to drop Phil a line here.
Welcome to the Binocular Universe, where two eyes are better than one.
Over the last few months, we have explored planetary nebulae and galaxies hidden in the far southern sky. This month, we head back north to tackle others gracing the December sky that are sure test your mettle. Be forewarned, as the title of this installment says, we are going after some big game.
Created by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1756 from stars originally belonging to Eridanus, the faint constellation Fornax, the Furnace, appears to the naked eye as a nearly starless void southeast of the bright star Diphda (Beta Ceti).
The wet quarter of the sky is made up of several constellations that are associated with water in one way of the other. These include Capricornus, the Sea-Goat; Aquarius, the Water-Bearer; Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish; Cetus, the Whale; and Pisces, the Fishes. All ride low in the southern sky from the vantage point of most of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, you may need to travel to a dark sky that is free of terrestrial obstructions, low-slung light pollution, and any horizon-hugging haze in order to see some of the targets explored below.
Sixty-nine years ago this month, the face of amateur astronomy changed forever. A seed was planted in September 1946 that would blossom into a decades-long infatuation with deep-sky observing among amateurs everywhere. Without any fanfare at the time, a man named Walter Scott Houston took over the reigns of a small column in Sky & Telescope magazine called Deep-Sky Wonders.
Would you like a spot of tea? Of course, I'm speaking of the sky's Teapot, Sagittarius. Known in ancient times as an archer, with his arrow aimed tentatively toward Scorpius immediately to the west, Sagittarius is usually portrayed as a centaur: a mythological half-man, half-horse creature.
To modern eyes, however, the constellation's 8 brightest stars form a perfect teapot, complete with lid, spout, and curved handle. And its tea must be ready, judging by all of the steam billowing out of the spout in the form of the Milky Way!
"Once in a Blue Moon." We have all used that phrase at one time or another when talking about something that only happens on rare occasions. Astronomically speaking, today's definition of a "Blue Moon" refers to the second Full Moon occurring in the same calendar month.
The kite-shaped pattern of stars that we know as Boötes (pronounced Boh-oh-teez) is one of the
oldest constellations in the entire sky. Some say that it dates
back to ancient Babylon, when they were used to depict the god Enlil, patron
god of farmers. Others trace it to Sumeria, where it represented
"The Man Who Drove the Great Cart" (our Big Dipper).
ago, I gave a talk at an astronomy convention in western PA called Astroblast.
Astroblast is hosted each year by the Oil Region Astronomical Society, based in Franklin. One of
the other speakers that year was Eric Fischer from Allison Park, PA, who gave a
fascinating presentation entitled "If Sherlock Holmes Observed Artificial
Earth-orbiting satellites pass overhead every night, but few of us pay them much mind apart from some idle curiosity. In his presentation, Fischer showed how you can deduce what kind of satellite you’re seeing by the power of observation. I found it intriguing.
For the past 6,000 years, the imposing form of Leo the Lion, the king of the beasts, has been stalking the spring sky. Leo is one of the oldest constellations, tracing its origin back to ancient Mesopotamia. Then, as now, stargazers imagined the constellation's hook-shaped "sickle" of stars as the profile of the lion's head, and a triangle of stars to their east as its haunches.