Magazine article Natural History

Out-of-This-World Series

Magazine article Natural History

Out-of-This-World Series

Article excerpt

The Great Square of Pegasus, high in the south on October evenings, is a conspicuous landmark in the autumn sky. The constellation is also an excellent example of the extremes to which ancient astronomers went to find images of gods and monsters in random star patterns. For a modern stargazer, visualizing an upside-down half of a flying horse is a big stretch.

We can, however, project our own interests onto the same Great Square. What could be more timely for this World Series month than a celestial baseball field? The star Scheat can represent home plate; Alpheratz, first base; Algenib, second; and Markab, third. The pitcher can be represented either by fifthmagnitude Upsilon Pegasi (nu)) or by Tau Pegasi (tau), which are both near the center of the square. Eta (rl) can be the catcher.

An imaginative stargazer can visualize various plays, drafting stars from nearby Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, and Piscis Austrinus as outfielders. In the last constellation, for instance, the firstmagnitude star Fomalhaut can be seen as a left-fielder chasing a long ball and running up against the foul pole (the western edge of the Great Square points almost exactly to that star). To complete the scene, Mu (pt) and Lambda (X-just southwest of Scheat) can be the manager and umpire.

The star Alpheratz is actually "borrowed" from Andromeda. Until the constellation boundaries were officially delineated in 1930, astronomers spoke of this star as being common to both patterns. Today, every star belongs to only one constellation.

The Sky In October Mercury, which was at superior conjunction (beyond the Sun as seen from Earth) last month, is not visible to observers in most of the U.S. arrives at superior conjunction on October 30 and is not visible.

Mars, in Leo, rises near 3:30 A.M., EDT, and is high in the east as morning twilight begins. The planet makes a close approach to the star Regulus, less than one degree to the north, on the morning of October 7. …

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