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Spring, love in the air and stars

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By Mark Jankowski
Ingram Planetarium

Imagine the romance of walking on the beach one spring evening, a slight breeze chilling you and a special someone next to you. 

You both stop to view the ocean waves crashing the beach, and then your eyes together glance upward to a breathtaking view of the heavens with the stars out-shining all the diamonds on Earth. 

Could there be a more prefect night? 

Yes, if you knew the stars. As you lean inward feeling the warmth from each other, imagine being able to reveal the great love stories told with the stars.

On the day of their marriage, the wine god Bacchus gave his wife, Ariadne, a tiara to show his love. On the day of her death, grief stricken Bacchus took the crown and placed it among the stars as a memorial to their love that would last until the end of the stars. 

Who would not want to learn the star groups after that introduction? Here are the major spring star groups that are rising in the east at sunset.

At sundown, look above the disappearing sunlight, you will see two bright specks, the brightest is Venus, and a mere five degrees away; just a smidge lower and to the right, Mercury is discernible. 

After you have enjoyed this uniquely close sighting of Venus and Mercury, check your watch, if you see 8:25 p.m. look back at the sky just above Venus and wave goodbye to the winter stars, then turn around leaving winter behind and say hello to the spring stars. 

Leading the spring stars is Leo the Lion. His most recognizable feature is a large backward question mark known as the sickle about four fists high in the sky. The sickle is his head, following a straight line toward due east, you will see a triangle this is his backside. 

The brightest object about 10 degrees under this triangle is Saturn. Saturn is in the hair of Virgo making Saturn look as if it was a barrette in the hair of young maiden.

Lower in the sky than Saturn is the bright star Spica marking the “spike” or as sometimes called “sprig” of wheat in Virgos hand. 

A little closer to the ground there are four bright stars almost forming a perfect square; this group is Corvus the crow. This is a great time of year to see both dippers. To view both, turn 90 degrees to the left and you will be facing north. You can easily see both during the spring months. 

The big dipper reaches its highest point of the sky in early evening. Use the two front bowl stars and draw a line through them, continue the line down, until you find Polaris. Follow a line of three stars to the east, end with four stars forming a bowl, and now you have identified the little dipper.

Back to the big dipper and then its handle, draw an arc through the sky allowing the handle to guide you. You will come to a bright star with a light red coloring. Congratulations you found Arcturus. Continue now in a straight line and you are back at Spica finishing a round trip sky tour. 

After practicing, it is time for a date on the beach with your special someone; 8:30 p.m. is the time, and any Brunswick County beach is the perfect place. 

As for that love story I shared at the beginning, you have to wait until next week to see the crown. It rises up at 10 p.m. in early April. Look for the star map on Ingram Planetarium’s Web site to help find these constellations. Also, come join the list of friends of the planetarium on Facebook.

 

Mark Jankowski is a senior technician at Ingram Planetarium. Reach him at mark@ingramplanetarium.org or by calling 575-0033.