I’ve been daydreaming a lot about all the stars in the sky as I await the total solar eclipse later this summer (on August 21st, to be exact). Plus, with the weather warming up, I’ll be able to look up into a star-filled nighttime skies without being cold. There’s also an observatory not too far away from where I live where you can look up into the night sky and see waaaay more stars than you can see in the city; you can even see the Milky Way cloud.
What? You say the Milky Way is our galaxy and not a cloud to be seen floating in a cloudless night sky? Technically, that’s true, I suppose, but our home galaxy—the Milky Way—was named so because of the way it looks sort of milky against a starry dark night sky. The Roman name for it translates to “the road of milk” and the Greek word for galaxy literally means “milky” or “milky one”. And of course, the Milky Way Galaxy is only visible from places where the night sky is dark enough—away from light pollution. (You can help cut down on the amount of light pollution by only using light where it’s really needed.)
But back to all the stars in the night sky! If you do get to a really dark place on a cloudless night, let your eyes adjust and take a look up into the night sky. It will not be empty, but filled with stars—many of which are grouped into constellations. Constellations are arrangements of stars that people formed into imaginary images—sort of like a dot-to-dot puzzle—to help them remember where each star was in the night sky. Mythology tells the stories behind the constellations. Most people are familiar with the Big Dipper, which is part of the Ursa Major Constellation; the signs of the zodiac, such as Leo the Lion and Cancer the Crab, also each have their own constellations.
Of course, constellations are the big picture. Stars are what make up the constellations and there are seven main types of stars, defined by their temperature and designated by the letters O, B, A, F, G, K and M. Then there are eight luminosity classes for stars—white dwarf, for example, is Yerkes Luminosity Class Type VII.
So … just what are some of the stars in the constellations of the night sky?
Many people know that the two stars along the bucket edge of the Big Dipper “point” to the North Star if you use them to draw a straight line upwards. The North Star—or Polaris—is a star that pretty much stays in place all year long relative to our viewpoint from Earth, and although it does not technically point true north, it is always fairly close. Over the ages, people have used Polaris to help them stay on course traveling, so that is pretty cool and a good reason to make it your favorite star.
Sirius is also another strong contender for a couple of reasons. First, it is the brightest star in the night sky, which sets it apart. The word Sirius in Greek literally means “glowing” or “scorching”. Second, Sirius is known as the Dog Star because of its location in the constellation of Canis Major, one of Orion’s two hunting dogs. Maybe I’m a little biased because I love dogs, but I think Sirius the Dog Star is pretty cool.
The constellation of Taurus also has several notable stars. In addition to almost sounding like it came from the movie Star Wars, the star Aldebaran found in Taurus is a red star about forty times the size of our own Sun.
Taurus also contains the Pleiades star cluster, AKA the Seven Sisters or Messier 45. Also called the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades star cluster is made up of hundreds of stars, but only some of them are visible to the naked eye. If you want to see more, grab some binoculars or a telescope; it’s fairly easy to locate. And the fact that there are so many stars to see in such a small area of the night sky makes the Pleiades a good challenger in the favorite star competition (even though it’s really many stars).
Finally, the Crab Nebula is also located in Taurus. According to NASA, the Crab Nebula is the “shattered remnant of a massive star that ended its life in a supernova explosion … in the year 1054 AD.” The explosion was so humongous that it was even visible in the daylight for many days and to this day, you can view the remains—that’s what you see when you look up at the Crab Nebula in Taurus.
I find all of these stars pretty cool, but my favorite star? That would be the Sun. Yup, that’s right. The plain old shine-in-the-daytime Sun is my favorite star, even though it is considered to be an ordinary star as far as the universe is concerned, because it provides warmth and light to our planet. I love going outside on sunny days to soak up the sun and enjoy the outdoors. Evening sunsets to relax to before all the other stars can be seen in the night sky are often amazing. Or nice, fresh daybreak as the rising sun breaks over the horizon—a perfect start to the day.
Ah, the Sun! My favorite star.