This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
In the hot, dry countries of the Middle East, it was common to hear the calls of men going through the streets carrying bladders or jars full of cool water, which they will pour out for you into a cup. But they wouldn’t serve you unless you were wearing a mask (Oh, I’m sorry, that was a different time).
Aquarius is the Latin word for such a water seller. It is like aquarium, a water zoo; they come from aqua, the word for “water.”
In this constellation, Aqua-Man, what I call him anyway, is quite thin, just a long line of three stars. His jar is a small triangle of stars with a fourth star in the middle. This is the one part that is easy to pick out, it lies right on the Equator of the sky, with water pouring from the jar as fine lines of stars running south.
Both the Equator and the Ecliptic lines run right through Aquarius. You know I have been viewing the skies for years now, and I still can’t seem to locate those two lines in the sky. I know they have to be there, for I see them in the astronomy books all the time. It’s like when flying over our Equator here on Earth, the pilot comes on and says we are now crossing over the Equator. Inevitably someone will yell out “I don’t see it, where is it?” I usually yell out at this time: “You have to be on this side of the plane to see it.”
Now if you are ready to move on to other celestial bodies in the sky, you don’t have to leave this area to do so. Aquarius is full of interesting things to look at even with the naked eye, such as two of the best globular clusters around: M2 and M15. With a small telescope you can pick out two of the more interesting planetary nebulae: the Saturn Nebula and the very large Helix Nebula.
A while back I had the pleasure of entertaining Miss Carpenter’s class from the Tres Pinos School in my backyard to view Saturn and other celestial objects. I can’t believe how well behaved the children were. Well, Miss Carpenter and the parents were the ones that gave me all the problems.
It is always interesting to hear the different responses from the children when they look into the eyepiece. Some get so excited and say “wow, that is unbelievable!” Then others are more like my family and just say “hmm” and walk away. We all seem to get out of it what we want. One young man was looking at Saturn, and yelled out “wow that looks almost real!” And I replied “well that is pretty real.” He kept looking at the front of the scope to see where the picture was.
Everyone had a good time, though no one had a better time than I did. My hats off to Miss Carpenter for a job well done. I couldn’t have been more pleased.
It is so amazing how much is out there to see. No matter where in the sky you happen to be looking there will always be something that will pique your interest.
So if your dusty telescope is still locked away somewhere, now is the time to wipe it off, point it to the sky and find something you have never seen before. Who knows, there might be someone out there looking back at you. There is more than just the Hunter’s Moon and planets out there to look at. Try and find our friend Aqua-Man, or those two pesky lines in the sky. Don’t forget family and friends when you do.
**Just in case you are gullible as I: there are no lines in the sky nor on Earth, sorry.
October Sky Watch
Oct. 16: New Moon and Moon is at perigee (221,775 miles from Earth)
Oct. 17: Moon passes 7° north of Mercury
Oct. 21: Orionid meteor showers peaks
Oct. 22: Moon passes 2° south of Jupiter and Moon passes 3° south of Saturn
Oct. 23: First quarter Moon
Oct. 27: Moon passes 4° south of Neptune
Oct. 29: Moon passes 3° south of Mars
Oct. 30: Moon is at apogee (252,522 miles from Earth)
Oct. 31: Moon passes 3° south of Uranus