Vulpecula – the fox and the goose

July 3, 2016


Fox and GooseThe Fox and the Goose is a small constellation in the night skies of summer. It sounds like a fairy tale but one of the gruesome sort where the fox murders some poor goose. Of course a fox has to eat too, and probably has to feed a whole den-full of cute little baby foxes. But what about the baby goslings? Who is going to take care of them? Anyway, the fox and goose really is a thing and has generally served as one metaphor or another for ages. You know who else used this creepy metaphor? Hitler, who obviously sided with the fox (true story).
The constellation is modern as opposed to ancient. It was squeezed in to fill up some unoccupied territory by Johannes Hevelius around 1680, a point in history when pretty much every astronomer was named Johannes. He chose the killer-fox thing because “…such an animal is very cunning, voracious, and fierce.” Oh yeah, it out-smarted and out-fought a goose. Real fierce.
Hevelius is considered the last big-name astronomer not to use a telescope. Oh there were telescopes around, and other astronomers told him he was being kind of a dick by refusing to use one, but there you go. If he were alive today he would use vinyl records to record his MP3’s. Here’s a sketch of Hevelius being all humble and shit.
Hevelius Showing Off
Without a telescope this region is dim and unremarkable except that it is near The Great Rift of the Milky Way, where the Sagittarian Arm of our galaxy appears to split into two sections. It’s not really split, there is an intervening dark dust cloud in our way which is an interesting story by itself. If Hevelius had been willing to scope it out with a real scope, or even some decent binoculars, he would have found a truly interesting thing about this part of the sky, which is M27, a.k.a. the Dumbbell Nebula. Some people call it the Apple Core. The bigger your telescope, the less dumb and the more apple-ish it looks.
M27 is a type of object known as a planetary nebula which by the way is a terrible thing to call it because it has nothing to do with planets. It’s the thrown-off outer layers of an aging dying star. Some day our sun will do the same thing and property values could be adversely affected so don’t say you weren’t warned.

downloadVulpecula is also where you will find The Coathanger which is a group of stars that form the perfect shape of a coathanger (aka Brocchi’s Cluster). On a good night you can see it with the naked eye. By the way, in space you can hang your clothes anywhere.
Carpe Noctem.

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