By Becki Bulls, Park Ranger
Few sights are as awe inspiring as the star studded night sky when viewed from a remote area. The glow of city lights has robbed many people of this opportunity to enjoy this beauty. Take a moment to walk away from your campfire and gaze starward. You will be seeing the same view that inspired the dreams that one day led mankind to reach out into outer space itself.
Constellations are really just pictures in the sky using some of the brighter stars, kind of like “connect the dots.” To help you find your way around the night sky, there are some stars you can use to “point” to other constellations.
First find the Big Dipper. The two stars in the “bowl” point to Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is the last star in the “handle” of the Little Dipper. Now, follow the arc of the Big Dipper’s “handle” and “arc” your way to Arcturus, and “speed on” to Spica. Arcturus is at the bottom of the constellation Bootes the Bear Driver, which looks like an ice cream cone. Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden of Harvest, which looks like the letter “Y.”
Look directly overhead and find the three brightest stars. They form the Summer Triangle and each star has its own constellation. Deneb is the head of Cygnus the Swan, also known as the Northern Cross. Vega is part of the parallelogram shaped Lyra the Harp. And Altair forms the “diamond” shaped Aquila the Eagle.
By using the “star pointer” technique, and some imagination, you should be able to locate many constellations. If you see a really bright star that seems out of place, it is probably a planet.