Constellation of the Month: Cowboy up

David Baumgartner writes about how to find Arcturus.

This article was contributed by resident David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

This time of year the night skies are somewhat empty, as far as bright stars are concerned. You have only three bright ones; Vega, in the constellation Lyra, just rising in the east at sunset; Regulus, in the constellation Leo, departing in the west following the sun as it disappears for the night; and Spica, in the constellation Virgo, just south of Bootes.

But wait; what is that bright glowing star left all alone straight up at the zenith? Why it’s Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. You can tell it’s Arcturus, for one, because it is the only bright object straight up in the sky, and two, by its slightly yellowish or orange color. Either way you can’t miss it, just use my exquisite direction I just gave you; “Straight up.”

Now if my great directions didn’t do it for you, there is another way of finding Arcturus. Look at the Big Dipper. Its handle is bent. Just imagine this curve continuing on south and it will lead you straight to Arcturus. And if you continue on down you come to Spica in the constellation Virgo.

An interesting story about Arcturus goes back to the year 1933. I was out of town at the time. In that year a big exhibition was held in Chicago. Light from Arcturus, some 40 light years away from the earth, was used to switch on the illuminations for the event. Now what is so interesting about that, you say? It is interesting because the light had left the star at the time of an exhibition held in the same place 40 years before. 

Now just think, this light traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, took 40 years to reach us. This same light takes only 1.25 seconds to reach earth from the moon. How long did it take our Apollo Astronauts to get there? A couple days or so, actually 72 hours. Well, I thought it was interesting.

There are two dots over the second “o” in Bootes, which means that you pronounce the vowels separately: “oh-h”, not “oo”. This is a Greek word meaning a man tending a herd of cows. Maybe it should have been called the Cowboy constellation. OK, or Cowgirl. To me Bootes looks more like a hot air balloon than anything. But I wasn’t around at the time they gave the names out.

So take a look at the constellation Bootes and let me know what name you would have given it.

Clear skies


Up and coming events:

April 17: Moon passes 0.1 Degrees south of Mars

April 20: First Quarter Moon

April 22: Lyrid meteor shower peaks

April 26: Full Moon

April 27: Moon is at perigee (222,064 miles from Earth)


David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. Collage (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Guesta, Collages, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonvile, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate Licence in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. Now in December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. Non the less, I am retired, at 77 years of age I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.