16 March 2010

Winter Triangle

One of the highlights of the winter sky is the Winter Triangle. This shape is a nearly perfect equilateral triangle that shines in the southern sky over the next few months. It includes three of the most brilliant stars in the sky, and it is called an "asterism" because it is not a single constellation, but a combination of stars from three different constellations.

The first and brightest star is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is close to the Solar Systems (8 light years) and has a slight blue coloration. Sirius is in the constellation Canis Major, the big dog that accompanies Orion. To the upper right is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star in Orion that is a distinctive orange color. Betelgeuse is so big that if it was our Sun, it would envelop Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars! And the third star of the triangle is Procyon, in the constellation Canis Minor, the small dog that accompanies Orion. Procyon is actually a double-star system with a faint partner star.

Inside the Winter Triangle you can find numerous clusters of stars. I spent some time looking here a few nights ago and was able to see quite a few of these clusters, even in San Francisco. My backyard has a dark western horizon so by looking through binoculars later in the evening I was able to see quite a bit in and around the asterism. Try this for yourself sometime soon.

1 comment:

Sidewalk Universe said...

Paul you took the words right out of mouth! Within the boundaries of this great triangle is a star cluster hunting ground for binos and small telescope. Like you last week I was there for a quick perusal and ended up staying for a while!

The Unicorn captured in a stall but still hard to see!