My earliest memory of the night sky begins with the nursery rhyme:
Star light, Star Bright,
First Star I see tonight.
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.
In a time hundreds of years before you or I were born, the night sky was far more than a place where wishes were launched. Travelers sought direction and navigation by the appearance of the brightest stars known today as first magnitude stars. Farmers planted and harvested by the position of the moon and when specific constellations were overhead. Ancient civilizations developed stories to explain the creation of the stars and planets. Many stars were named thousands of years ago from folklore, mythology, and from their location in the sky.
There are 88 constellations in the Southern and Northern hemispheres. Virgo, the maiden, is the second-largest constellation of all. She appears in the sky this week, along with Leo, the lion, and Bootes, classically seen as a herdsman, but which looks more like a kite to most people.
High in the spring sky is the Big Dipper. While not a constellation but rather an asterism, the Big Dipper is an important and easily-identified guide to finding constellations. Lean your head way back to locate the Big Dipper’s handle and bowl. Trace the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle towards the south. It leads you to Arcturus, the bright orange star in Bootes. Continue southward along that arc and you will find Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, representing the maiden’s hand. From Virgo look northwest to find the bright star, Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion. The planet Jupiter is that extremely bright object now in Leo, just east of Regulus.
Think about a time when you pointed up at the night sky in search of the Big Dipper or drew imaginary lines to connect the stars in your favorite constellation. With 15 constellations and the planets — Jupiter and Mercury visible in the evening sky, and Mars and Saturn rising after midnight — this might be the perfect time to renew your wonder, romance, and discovery of the universe. Find a star, make a wish.
You’ve been listening to Western Slope Skies, produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Ranger Mimi of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.