Swing High Sweet Chariot

What a sweet night. Clear and calm without the usual bite in the air. I didn’t want to take down the telescope but the faint refrain of "gotta go to work tomorrow" finally sent me off to bed around midnight.

I don’t know which I  like more — observing through the telescope or just gawking at the sky, but there was time for both last night. 

Skies were clear in western Minnesota too. One observer in Alexandria reported a successful sighting of the space station. We’ll have another good pass tonight between 9:08-12 p.m. Watch the station arc from northwest to northeast across the northern sky. On Saturday night the 5th, there’ll be an even brighter pass starting at 9:30 p.m.

Use Mars and Betelgeuse to find Auriga – created with Stellarium

I love those old movies with Roman chariot drivers battling it out in the Colliseum. Turns out we have a chariot driver in our night sky too through he’s usually pictured just holding onto the reins. It’s called Auriga (Awe-RYE-guh) and its brightest star, Capella, is part of the Winter Hexagon. You’ll find it high in the west at nightfall above and to the right of Orion. Mars and Betelgeuse will bring you to Capella, and from there, you can connect the dots of Auriga’s distinctive pentagonal outline.

The lower left star of the pentagon is actually the tip of one of Taurus the Bull’s horns but most sky observers consider the star "shared" by both constellations. Capella is fascinating in its own right. It’s 42 light years away and consists of two nearly identical yellow giant stars that are closer to each other than the Earth is to the sun — a sort of stellar "Doublemint Twins." 

The name Capella means "little she goat" in Latin and tomorrow I’ll explain just how it is a goat can drive a chariot.

Auriga figure / Stellarium

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