Looking Up: Go fly a kite? See one among April’s stars
Coming up in the east on April evenings is the constellation Bootes, the Herdsman. Its principal stars form what looks more like a kite than someone who herds animals.
If you can find the Big Dipper, Bootes is a cinch, as the top of this “kite” lies immediately off the end star on the Big Dipper’s handle (which, by the way, is known as Alkaid). At the lower end of the kite figure is Bootes’ most brilliant star and one of the brightest in the sky, lovely orange Arcturus.
The ancient Greeks and other civilizations of eons ago who gave us most of our recognized constellations, imagined pictures in the heavens, with stories connected to each that was handed down generation to generation. Bootes is particularly ancient, and was referred to by Homer in “The Odyssey” almost 3,000 years ago. Numerous cultures have recognized Bootes, in slightly different forms. One story is that the Herdsman is continually keeping watch of the celestial bears that circle the Pole Star- Ursa Major the Great Bear (containing the Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor the Little Bear (otherwise known as the Little Dipper).
To help him in herding the bears, he has a pair of hunting dogs in the sky, which make up the small constellation Canes Venatici, basically two stars under the handle of the Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper, which constantly circles a point next to the North Star in our northern sky, serves as a very handy pointer. In addition to the front stars of the bowl pointing right at the North Star, the handle of the Dipper points down to the bright star Arcturus. Continue your swing past Arcturus to another bright, blue-white star, known as Spica. The front stars of the Dipper’s bowl point in the opposite direction from the North Star to... the South Star! Well, not really, as there is no easily seen star with that designation, in the far south. They do, however, point down to the bright star Regulus, visible on April evenings about half way up in the south.
Further to the right this season is the planet Jupiter, shining brilliant and white.
Arcturus is one of three bright stars that partition the northern sky into thirds, each one dominant in the evening at various times of year. The others are Vega, best seen in summer, and Capella, which parades high in the winter sky. Arcturus is the fourth brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri.
Arcturus presently lies 36.7 light years from the Sun; it takes that many years for the starlight to reach our eyes. Arcturus is an orange-red giant.
This star has the unique distinction of having the largest proper motion of any bright star, across the sky. The famed astronomer Sir Edmond Halley first detected the motion of this star, in 1718.
In 1933 the light of Arcturus was used to open the World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois. The star was chosen as it was thought that light from Arcturus had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago fair in 1893.
The star is mentioned twice in the Bible, in Job 9:9 and Job 38:32.t.
Last quarter Moon is on April 19th.
Keep looking up!
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.