Tonight we look again into the southeast where the ancient constellation Argo is rising stern first into the sky. Argo is no longer counted as one of the 88 constellations visible in the night sky; about two centuries ago it was found to be inconveniently large so it was broken into four separate constellations, Carina the keel, Puppis the deck, Pyxis the compass, and Vela the sails. The old Argo is so large and deep in the southern sky it never is completely above our horizon at the same time, the stern sinking in the southwest before the bow rises. Canopus, hanging low in the south, is the second brightest star in the sky only surpassed by the nearby Sirius. Southern stargazers are rather lucky as Canopus is never visible north of the Tennessee border. The old Argo is buried deep in the Milky Way and sweeping the area with binoculars can be a rewarding experience.
Also rising in the southeast is Hydra; a rather faint constellation, but a very long one. It stretches across roughly one-seventh of the whole sky – Hydra started rising about sunset and won’t completely clear the horizon until almost midnight. Despite it’s great length it contains only one star of modest brightness Alphard, appearing rather orange in binoculars. The Moon tonight is likely to interfere with your view of Hydra, you might want to wait a couple of weeks until it is no longer in the early evening sky to try and pick out this faint constellation.
Looking at Canis Major, hanging like a tag from the neck of the dog is M41. This star cluster might be the faintest object ever recorded by ancient astronomers. I have only seen it by naked eye once in the dark skies north of Everglades City. It’s an easy object for binoculars though; but for the best view look again when the Moon is out of the way.
For those of you out walking the dog or jogging in the early morning hours before sunrise, you might be wondering what that star is low in the southeast shining like a beacon. The “star” is Venus; a steady hand with the binoculars may reveal the disk of the planet although it is fairly far away at the moment.
See you next time!
Mr. Usher is President of the Everglades Astronomical Society which meets every second Tuesday at 7:00PM at the Norris Center, Cambier Park, Naples.