This article was contributed by community member David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
The winter sky sparkles with bright stars. Does it just seem this way because of the clear frosty air? No, the winter sky is just full of bright stars. Just take a look at all the bright stars in the constellation Orion. Gemini, the Twins, has a couple of bright stars that are noteworthy as well.
Gemini may be less conspicuous than Orion, but still, nonetheless, a well-known constellation. To find Gemini, just draw a line from the two brightest stars in Orion (Betelgeuse and Rigel) and go east. It will point right at Gemini. You will see two very bright stars, Castor and Pollux. The two stars are the heads of the twins, and their bodies are the two ragged lines of stars sloping down to their feet, which stand on the Milky Way. Pollux is just a little brighter, and is slightly orange in color. In your telescope, Castor is one of the many double stars in the sky. It actually is a group of six stars close together.
Castor and Pollux were famous twin brothers in Greek legends. Castor was a wrestler and Pollux was a boxer, and together they went on many adventures. There was hardly any difference between them, except that Castor was mortal and Pollux was immortal. When Castor was killed, Pollux was so sad that he wanted to die too, but he could not. The chief god Zeus was so impressed by their brotherly love that he let them live together in the sky forever.
Gemini is the Latin word for “twins.” Wondering if my brother would stand next to me forever? I’m sure he would. Just not sure about that forever thing…
Dark Sky Report
It is always good to see new development take the interest in their lighting of the parking lots or the area around their buildings. Not wanting unwanted light to spread over onto their neighbor’s property, let alone diminishing what is left of our dark skies, is what I call very thoughtful.
Well one of those developments is San Juan Oaks Golf Club. When first they installed the new Mission Bell design lighting system in the parking lot, they noticed that the bulb was hanging down below the bell itself, shining that unwanted light to where it didn’t belong. Now get this, to do what they felt was right, they actually got up there some 50 feet or so in the air, painted the bottom of the bulbs to control the light so it would shine down on the parking lot where it belonged and not up into the dark skies, or what is left of our dark skies. Good job to Scott Fuller and the rest at San Juan Oaks. I wish we had enough paint to go around for the rest of the county.
I hope everyone got what they wanted for Christmas, and I hope some of those gifts were telescopes. Make sure you read all the instructions carefully before setting it up. If you have any problems, give me a call; I might be able to help you out. But on the other hand, I may just mess you up even more. What the heck, take a chance!
February Sky Watch:
Feb. 1: First Quarter Moon. Occurs at 5:42 p.m.
Feb. 2: Moon passes .05° north of asteroid Vesta at 1 a.m.
Feb. 8: Full Moon. Occurs at 11:33 p.m.
Feb. 10: Moon is at perigee (223,980 miles from Earth) at 12:28 p.m.
Feb. 13: Moon passes 0.6° of asteroid Juno at 2 p.m.