There are 88 defined constellations. More than half of these are animals.
While some animal constellations are visible year round in western Colorado, during October evenings, many are along a path from north to south, known as the meridian. Get out your star chart and let’s go to the Meridian Zoo!
Unfortunately, some of the zoo may be hidden behind Grand Mesa or local mountains. So, we will start our trip with Camelopardalis, the Giraffe. The name is a combination of the Greek words for camel and leopard. Eight stars, while not exceedingly bright, make the shape of a giraffe. You will need a good imagination and, perhaps, binoculars to find this animal, as it is hiding in the moonlight for the next week!
Continuing higher in the sky we find Polaris, the North Star, which is the end of the tail of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. It is also the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper. The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are not constellations, but are patterns of stars called asterisms.
We move through Ursa Minor to the south and find Draco, the Dragon, slightly to the east of our north to south path. Draco winds around the northern sky. Have you seen a dragon in a zoo?
We are now directly overhead, the zenith, and enter the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Quite distinctive, it contains 5 stars that define the tail, body, 2 wings, and head.
To the east and south of Cygnus is Lacerta, the Lizard. Lacerta contains a series of dim stars that ‘wiggle’ across the sky. Lacerta is sometimes called “Little Cassiopeia,’ because its brightest stars have a W shape like Cassiopeia. We would be remiss not to mention Delphinus, the Dolphin. Four naked eye stars make up her head and body and an additional star is her tail. She is leaping out of the water just for the joy of it.
Lack of time prevents us from mentioning Pegasus, Equuleus, Vulpecula, Capricornus, Grus, and Piscis Austrinus. All cross or lie next to the meridian, our north to south path through the galactic zoo. However, the last two may be hidden behind mountains to the south.
Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Bryan Cashion.