Delphinus swims in southern skies

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:01pm
  • Life

Delphinus the Dolphin is one of Ptolomy’s original 48 constellations.

Even though it’s small and dim it’s also distinct, and one of the few constellations that actually resembles what its name.

Delphinus is made up of a small skinny little diamond of faint stars that outline the torso and head of the little dolphin, and a single faint star that marks the tail.

Currently Delphinus is swimming high in the southern skies at the start of evening.

The best way to find Delphinus is by using the Summer Triangle nearly overhead in the high southern sky in the early evening.

Look for the three brightest stars that you can see in the early evening this time of year.

This trio of bright stars is made up of stars from three separate constellations, each the brightest star in their respective constellation.

If you face south and then look straight up the brightest star you’ll see will be Vega, on the right side of the Summer Triangle and the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

On the left corner of the triangle is Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

On the lower right corner is Altair, the brightest luminary in the constellation Aquila the Eagle.

It’s from Altair that you start your quick search for the diminutive dolphin, which is about two fist-widths at arm’s length to the left and up a little bit from Altair to find that skinny diagonally oriented diamond that makes up the body of the dolphin.

The dolphin’s tail is marked by a star that’s down and to the right of the diamond.

The five main stars that outline the body and tail of Delphinus range in distance from 95 light-years to more than 360 light-years away. One light-year is almost 6 trillion miles away.

Throughout the ages, people have used constellations to tell stories tied to local religion or mythology.

Many early Hebrew towns saw Delphinus as a whale, reminding them of the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale.

Early Christian settlements saw the little diamond of stars as the cross of Jesus.

One story in Greek mythology concerns Delphinus and Poseidon, the god of the sea.

When Poseidon decided to marry he set his sights on Amphitrite, one of the many Nereids, or sea nymphs.

Amphitrite was underwhelmed and got as far away as she could from the god of the sea, so he kidnapped her, but she escaped.

Then Poseidon sent Delphinus, his faithful dolphin, to search for her. Delphinus found Amphitrite and persuaded her to return to Poseidon.

They were happily married and as a reward, Poseidon placed his faithful dolphin in the heavens as the constellation we still see thousands of years later.

Celestial hugging this week: On Monday night the new crescent moon will be just to the lower right of Venus and on Tuesday evening the moon will be perched just above Venus. If you have a small telescope or binoculars take a close look at Venus and you’ll see it looks a tiny ovalish gibbous moon. Venus goes through phase shape changes just like our moon.

Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.

The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.

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