Night Sky

3 Oct

On a clear night around 10:00 o:clock look northwest and find the constellation called The Big Dipper. The two stars that form the outer edge of the dipper point directly to Polaris, also known as the North Star or Pole Star. Continue east about the same distance across the sky until you see the lopsided ‘W’ of Cassiopeia. These two constellations appear to rotate around Polaris as the earth spins. The larger point of the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia points toward The lower corner of the The Great Square of Pegasus and a very bright star called Alpheratz. Now back up and search the space halfway between Alpheratz and Cassiopeia. If the sky is clear you will be able to see an elongated fuzzy spot that is the Andromeda Galaxy, which, at 2.3 million light years distance, is the farthest object in the Universe visible to the naked eye.

Finding this object is not easy, but neither is it too difficult. Almost any good pair of binoculars will allow you to scan the sky in the right area and eventually you will run across Andromeda. Almost twice the size of our Milky Way Galaxy, Andromeda is a spiral galaxy some 200,000 light years across and contains 100 billion stars, give or take a few. What looks like two fuzzy stars on it’s periphery are companion eliptical galaxies captured by the gravitational pull of Andromeda. It is always there and if you are patient you will be able to find it. When you see it you will know.

I offer this primer on locating Andromeda so that you can experience the finding of it for yourself. There will come that moment when you realize what you are looking at and what you will feel then I can only guess. For me it was like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon and cling there while its wings dried. I knew I was witnessing nature at work in a pattern eons old and unfathomable to me despite all that I had learned in biology class. The moment will be different for you, but you will have seen something very unique, and something that unites us as a species. The exercise may also help orient you to your place in the overall scheme of things in this wide and wooly Universe we call home.

Finding Andromeda is worth the effort. Be patient and persevere.

It would be a shame to live your whole life and never really see the night sky.

One Response to “Night Sky”

  1. susielindau October 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Very cool! I will look for it tonight!

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