April 23, 2017

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Leo – the lion

The constellation Leo shows up in the early spring, when frogs wake up, the crocuses start blooming, and pudgy old guys begin meandering around Lowes in cargo shorts and birkenstocks. These stars dominate the spring sky the way Orion dominates the winter. In the weeks before the equinox Leo begins leaping up from the eastern […]

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April 16, 2017

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Leo Minor – the smaller lion

There is a constellation called Leo Minor that represents a lesser lion, just north of regular Leo. Johannes Hevelius added it in 1687. He sort of squeezed it in between Leo and the Big Dipper where there was a bit of unoccupied interstitial space. It’s like how Idaho was formed from the leftover region created […]

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April 9, 2017

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Lepus – the hare

Lepus is a constellation that represents a hare, which is basically a rabbit with longer legs and ears. It’s located right beneath Orion, dangerously close to being stepped on, and dangerously close to his two dogs. The brightest star in Lepus is named Arneb, which means “hare” (no surprise there). It’s expected to explode at […]

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April 2, 2017

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Libra – the scales

The constellation of Libra represents a set of scales and it is by far the newest of the zodiacal membership. It may seem odd that there is a machine for weighing stuff in the weird line-up of monsters and zoo critters. On the other hand its two brightest stars have my most favorite star names; […]

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March 26, 2017

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Lupus – the wolf

The constellation Lupus is way down south. It was even recognized as the wolf by Claudius Ptolemy a couple of thousand years ago, which is notable because Ptolemy was mostly concerned with the stuff more to the north. On the other hand the stars in this area are near Centaurus and they do in fact […]

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March 19, 2017

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Lynx – the lynx

The constellation Lynx is one of a few that is its own translation. It means “lynx” so no fancy steps are required to explain it. In the late 1600’s Johannes Hevelius named it after the wild cat because those animals have eyesight good enough to see the stars here and humans don’t (true story). I’ve […]

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March 12, 2017

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Lyra – the lyre

High in the summer sky you’ll find Lyra, the lyre, which is a small harp-like musical instrument. On some old-timey maps it is depicted as a eagle, or sometimes a vulture, with a small lyre in its mouth. Clearly this one was designed by an astronomy club committee. Orpheus is the mythical guy who started […]

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March 5, 2017

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Mensa – the table

Mensa means “table.” It is also the name of a southern constellation mapped out by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. Originally Lacaille meant for this area of the sky to be named “Table Mountain” after a place in Africa near Cape Town. People casually shortened the name to just Table and also shortened Nicolas Louis de […]

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February 26, 2017

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Microscopium – the microscope

Having named one southern constellation after a telescope, Lacaille named another after the microscope. The two star groups are beside each other. It seemed only right since each of these inventions expanded our level of consciousness by orders of magnitude, albeit in opposite dimensions of space. From sub-atomics to the multi-verse, the science of optics […]

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February 19, 2017

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Monoceros – the unicorn

The constellation Monoceros was invented to fill in a big gap in the winter sky. The ancient star watchers don’t seem to have been overly concerned about the sky in a cartographical sense, so they recognized Orion and Hydra and associated them with mythical stories, but they left the dim area in between as a […]

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February 12, 2017

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Musca – the fly

The southern constellation of Musca represents a lowly fly. When Johann Bayer added it to his maps he called it “The Bee” and folks liked that name for a couple of hundred years. But then some map maker called it The Fly except there was already a fly up north which was part of Aries […]

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February 5, 2017

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Norma – the carpenter’s square

Norma is a southern constellation and the name refers to the thingy a carpenter uses to make stuff look normal. It’s a good example of how the name for a group of stars can rapidly evolve. It was first named by a French guy, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, who called it “l’Equerre et la Regle.” […]

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