In my interview with astronomy graduate student Matt Davis on Oct. 16, I asked him to suggest his favorite stars and constellations for amateur stargazers to look for in the night sky. Davis responded by giving me a list of celestial phenomena he thinks stargazers shouldn’t miss. Below is the Stargazer Top Five, a list of stargazing must-sees, devised from his suggestions:
1. The Milky Way galaxy. “If I had to make a list of all the things [stargazers] should see, the Milky Way tops the list,” Davis said.
I knew the Milky Way is the galaxy of our solar system, but I wanted to know: Why does the Milky Way look the way it does from Earth? The Milky Way is a combination of billions of stars and dust, Davis said. “The Milky Way is a fuzzy glow of so many stars shining at us that we can’t distinguish any of the stars,” he said. “It’s combined light from all of the stars of the Milky Way that we can’t see individually. We are orbiting perpendicular to the galaxy, so that’s why we kind of see it overhead. And you can’t tell, but the center of our galaxy is in the constellation Sagittarius. When you’re looking at the constellation Sagittarius, you’re looking at the direction of the center of our galaxy.”
2. The planets. “It’s always cool to identify the planets,” Davis said. According to StarDate Online, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible to the naked eye. For information on when and where to view the planets, see StarDate Online’s planet viewing guide.
3. The Pleiades star cluster. What’s most interesting about the Pleiades star cluster– or any star cluster– is that unlike the stars in a constellation, “those stars are actually physically associated with each other,” he said. “It’s a cluster of young, bright stars born at the same time, in the same location.” Stargazers can find Pleiades in the Taurus constellation.
4. The star Sirius. Sirius should be easy to spot because it is the brightest star in the sky, Davis said. “Because Sirius is so bright, the light sensitivity of your eye will actually try to determine the color of the star,” he said. “It’s very pretty.” To learn more about Sirius, see StarDate Online’s radio program transcript of a discussion on the star. Stargazers can find Sirius in the Canis Major constellation.
5. The Delphinus constellation. Davis said Delphinus is the best constellation in the sky. “It’s cute– it’s a dolphin,” he said. But to him, Delphinus looks more like a kite. (Funny thing: My friends and I have spotted the ‘kite’ numerous times while stargazing, not knowing it was an actual constellation.) Using my star map, I figured out that Delphinus lies near the celestial equator, just east of the Milky Way. It is surrounded by the Pegasus, Equuleus, Aquila, Vulpecula and Sagitta constellations.
Remember to check StarDate Online’s seven-day star forecast for the nights Nov. 4 to Nov. 10. Fellow stargazers may also want to go to stardate.org to see an overview of stargazing opportunities in November.