Naked Eye Astronomy: What’s That Bright Thing?


So, all Summer you’ve been looking at the Southern night sky and wondering what the heck that bright thing is. OK, so maybe you haven’t. Maybe you have a life. Maybe you watch your shoes and try not to step in freshly dropped, recycled dog food. But I’m going to tell you what it is anyway.

Jupiter. King of the planets. Number 5 on the “out from the sun” list. To find it, simply look south for the brightest thing in the night sky. It will be due south around 10pm local time. Up and to the right is the bright star Altair (alpha Aquila). Further up and to the right is Vega (alpha Lyra). Remember the move Contact with Jodie Foster? Vega was where she went to meet the aliens.

The current backdrop for Jupiter is the unimpressive constellation Capricornus. If you look to the right of Capricornus, you’ll see the much more impressive constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius. Go out around 8pm local time and this will be due south.

Sagittarius, on the left, is identifiable by it’s tea kettle shape, currently tipping out on the scorpion’s tail. Scorpius contains the impressive red star Antares. Antares means “the other Mars” (anti-Ares, get it?). Its red color is why the Greeks gave it its enduring name. You’ll need to get out soon to see Sagittarius chase Scorpius because the chase will soon be below the night horizon.

But Jupiter will be ruling the early night sky for a few more months. If you can get your hands on a small telescope get a bead on him and be awed. At least look up every once in a while. There are whole worlds up there. It might be worth taking your eyes off your shoes for a night. It might even be worth stepping in a steamer. Naw, probably not.

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