How to find Polaris, the North Star

Last week I realized autospell creates some interesting words that would drive an English teacher wild. I will blame the autospell feature on my computer and carry on trying to share the night sky patterns and events with you. Don’t give up-perhaps you will even enjoy spotting those auto-spelled words.

If you are planning on joining the night hike at the Resaca de la Palma this Friday, be sure to sign up for it because they arrange the number of trams available to accommodate registered participants. Black light flashlights make this an interesting unique experience.

The trip begins near sunset and ends at the Christina Torres Memorial Observatory manned by UTB professional staff. Check with the park to verify the time and register.

Now that spring has officially sprung, you have probably noticed the situation that relates to the Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, Bed in Summer. If you have not given yourself the pleasure of his writing, may I suggest that you use your favorite search engine to find it and share it with your children? It might be the beginning of a wonderful conversation together.

You already know that the star we orbit seems to rise in the general direction of east and set in the general direction of west. If you stand with your right shoulder facing east and the left one facing west, then your nose will point north. If you observe consistently against a fixed object – perhaps a utility pole, you will discover how far along the horizon the motion changes during the seasons.

To locate the constellations we mention in the column today, when facing north, raise your right arm held out straight so that your elbow joint is about level with your eyes and your fingers will point almost directly to Polaris, the North Star, and the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Polaris, although not very bright is your guide star. There are few bright stars in the area; the ones that are bright are the stars of the Big Dipper which at this time of the year is sitting above the Little Dipper as darkness sets in. The two stars at the front of the bowl of the Big Dipper are known as “the Pointers” since they line up with Polaris.

If you allow your eyes to track along the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle stars you will come to a bright gold-tinged star in the northeast, Arcturus. Keep on that same track to a blue- white star, Spica. Still farther on is a trapezoid known as Corvus, the Crow. The mnemonic is “follow the arc to Arcturus, spike to Spica, and keep on to Corvus” in case you are interested.

Corvus is also called Rainbow Crow in one of my favorite astronomy-based folklore stories. KBSD tv, the Brownsville ISD Instructional TV station has a rendition of this story which children might enjoy listening to one evening before bedtime. KBSD will email a picture of a crow for those kids who enjoy coloring.

The San Benito library’s Astronomy 101 session Tuesday, April 4 will explore the motions of the planets in our solar system, the distances between the planets, and be an outdoor session-if it doesn’t rain. The meeting begins promptly at 5 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Parents are included in the fun if they wish. They do need to remain on site with their child.

It was good to finally get some clear skies this past week; we are so spoiled here in the Valley with our brief winter season, but those cool fronts do interfere with star-gazing almost as much as the light pollution brought on by all the commercial growth. There are always trade-offs in life. One positive is that the moon is waxing this week and does not interfere greatly with star-gazing. Perhaps when you are out looking you might even spot a stray ‘falling star’ to wish upon.

Until next week, DO let some stars get in your eyes and KLU.