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The Watery Sky
updated: Oct 26, 2013, 12:00 PM
By Chuck McPartlin
Cachuma Lake may be getting low, but there's plenty of (mythical) water
in our skies right now.
An hour or so after sunset, when the sky is good and dark, get away from
the city lights and take a look at our southern, ocean horizon. The bright
stars of summer and the bulge of the Milky Way are fading in the west and
southwest. We are now looking at a dim expanse of autumn sky known as the
The constellations here all have to do with water, or animals that
live in water. They date back to ancient Mesopotamia, which had its
rainy season when the Sun was in this part of the sky. That works
pretty well for Santa Barbara, too. The following images are from
Starry Night Pro software, and will help you find these less than
prominent constellations. The very bright object at the lower right
The three westernmost watery constellations are near our southern
meridian in early fall: Capricornus, the Sea Goat; Aquarius, the
Water Bearer; and Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish.
Capricornus is usually depicted with the forebody of a goat and
the rear end of a fish, forming a large, roughly triangular shape
in the sky. I usually say it's supposed to be a goat, but it looks
like a boat. A more modern name is the great bikini bottom in the sky.
Aquarius hovers over the Sea Goat, pouring a stream of water from
a Y-shaped asterism known as the Jug down the eastern side of
Capricornus. It's pretty dim overall.
The stream of water from Aquarius is flowing down into the mouth of
Piscis Austrinus, marked by the only bright star in this part
of the sky. This is Fomalhaut, often called the Lonely One.
Here's what the ancient Greeks saw for these liquid constellations.
Fomalhaut is about 25 light years away, and is currently a candidate
for one of the widest triple star systems yet found, with its components
spanning eleven full Moons in the sky. If the three are indeed gravitationally
bound, it is a very tenuous arrangement.
Fomalhaut also seems to have at least one exoplanet, with a mass of around two
Jupiters, in a highly elliptical 2,000 year orbit. Fomalhaut also has a large
dusty ring roughly equivalent to our asteroid belt. The Hubble Space Telescope
has imaged the ring in infrared light, and arguably the planet. The image looks
like the Eye of Sauron.
Algedi and Dabih, the two upper-right stars of Capricornus, are each nice
double stars resolvable in binoculars.
The mythology behind these constellations, and cool things to see in them
with binoculars and telescopes, are described in the links below.
References for Cloudy Evening
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