Friday, August 17, 2012

Diamonds Before Dawn

Typically, I'm not an early riser like my husband, 
who enjoys starting his day in the pre-dawn hours.
But for some reason, I was wide awake around 4:00 a.m. on August 16th,
so even though it was still dark and the birds weren't even chirping yet,
 I decided to get up and see him off to work.
I noticed we had left the window blinds at the front of the house open overnight,
so I went to close them.
And that's when I saw something  magical through the window.
It was the planet Venus, sparkling like a diamond in the eastern sky.
If one has never seen this bright planet, called the "morning star,"
which has light brilliant enough to cast shadows on earth the way the moon does,*
it is worth the missed sleep.
(*Pete Lawrence, cited in

But as my husband pointed out to me, Venus was not sparkling in the sky alone.
Jupiter, which appeared higher and to the right of Venus, was also intensely bright.
So my curiosity was piqued, and I found a star map for August 16th 
that showed Venus, the stars of Gemini above and below Venus,
Taurus and Aldebaran to the right of Jupiter;
and Orion and the three stars called Orion's Belt 
(although I have always called that part of the constellation
"my three sisters" since I have three sisters).

And armed with that stellar map, 
I went outside with binoculars and tried to see them all.
Perhaps because of the glow of ever-burning city lights
and the fact of no telescope,
I could only see a couple of stars in Gemini, 
and only a few stars in Orion, but not his bow.
I definitely could see the stars in the Belt: 
Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka (
The Wikipedia entry also gives some folk names for the three stars:
"The Three Marys," "The Three Kings," "Jacob's Staff,"
and the unforgivably prosaic "Yardstick."

According to the article "The Stars This Month" 
on the One Minute Astronomer web site,
the morning of August 16, 2012 hosted the stars and planets I noted above,
and also the planet Mercury near the horizon just at sunrise.
I saw it on the site's star map;
unfortunately, there were too many trees and houses 
obscuring the horizon line  when I looked for it in the sky.

Apparently, August is the best month for star gazing in the Northern Hemisphere.
That according to the web site Earth Sky:
The site says that the Andromeda Galaxy 
and the diamond-shaped constellation of Pegasus 
will be visible in the northeastern sky early to mid-evening of August 17th.
It would be a good opportunity to see Venus when it appears again,
this time as the "evening star."

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