Friday, November 22, 2013

PISCIS AUSTRALIS - The Southern Fish

For me, fall means the reappearance of the lonely star in the southern sky with a funny name: FOMALHAUT.  Some people pronounce it, "Foam-a-lot," and others say, "Foam-a-low" but any way you cut it, it's a fascinating star.  Look south after sunset about 1/4 of the way up in the sky and you'll see Fomalhaut.  It's the only bright star in this area.  Check out this star's color very closely.  Most astronomers will say that stars cannot be green in color, but I swear Fomalhaut flickers blue, white, and GREEN. Check it out and see if you agree.

Recently astronomers discovered a planet in orbit around Fomalhaut.  At least we think it is.  Check out the picture to see if you can find it (I know it looks like the Eye of Sauron, but that's the way the instruments have to mask the star to detect very faint objects). 

Fomalhaut means, "The Fish's Mouth," and it is part of a cute, little fall constellation swimming in the southern sky. Piscis Australis (or Piscis Austrinus) is the southern fish, big daddy to the two fish tied together in the zodiacal constellation Pisces. The mythology on these stars is sketchy at best. One account says that a goddess fell into a lake near the Euphrates River and was saved by this fish. In most drawings of Piscis Australis the waters dumped by the constellation Aquarius flow right into his big mouth. Does a fish really need to drink?

Ancient Arabic astronomers called Fomalhaut, "The First Frog," (more evidence in my mind that it is green :).  The Second Frog is a star 25 degrees up and to the left called Deneb Kaitos (the tail of the whale) which rises after Fomalhaut - thus it's second. 

Check out the fish and frogs and star colors tonight.  There's a lot to see!


Friday, November 1, 2013


Whereas the stars for Queen Cassiopeia are bright and beautiful, her husband’s constellation is dim and dull. Cepheus the King is a tough constellation to find if you live in a city, but if you look carefully you just may discover these royal stars.

You can find Cepheus tonight high in the northern sky just to the left of Cassiopeia. His dimmer stars look like an upside-down house.

Once upon a time in ancient Ethiopia… Cepheus the King was enjoying a quiet afternoon nap when the great god of the sea, Poseidon strode in to the castle. In a rage Poseidon said, "King Cepheus! Your wife's vanity has gone too far. She has offended the gods and must be punished."

The King, waking up quickly, stammered, “Wha… what did she do?”

“What did she do?” great Poseidon exclaimed. “Get this. Queen Cassiopeia said, in front of everyone, that she was more beautiful than all the mermaids in the ocean. My mermaids! Hah, don’t make me laugh.” Cepheus laughed nervously. “That old hag can’t hold a candle to my mermaids,” Poseidon continued. “She must be punished.”

Cepheus begged for mercy and even declared that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if anything happened to Cassiopeia. “I would miss her sweet voice,” the King said. This was a total lie since the Queen, although beautiful, had a voice like a ban-saw.

"Being a fair and angry god," Poseidon considered, "I will have you share in her misery. I banish you both to the skies where you will endlessly circle the pole star. And there you will forever hear her, um, sweet voice. Ha ha ha ha! (menacing god-like laugh).”

And there the couple spins. High in the sky the King is not far from his Queen and he forever hears her sweet voice say, “Oh no, I’m going upside down again. Aaaaah, Cepheus, you stupid, little stickin’…!”