Corvus The Crow Caw-caws Tonight

The common crow also has a place in the sky. Credit: Fla. Dept. of Health

Crows are smart. Some fashion hooks from twigs to get at food. Yet intelligence is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when most of us think of crows. We’re more likely to associate them with bad omens or their uncanny ability to find a way into our garbage.

Whether or not you’re a crow fan, I think you’ll enjoy the version that roosts in the southern sky on spring nights. Its compact form makes it an easy catch.

The celestial crow is called Corvus (‘crow’ in Latin) and looks like a misshapen square. You can find it by facing south-southeast at nightfall. First identify Saturn and Spica, the two bright objects about midway up in the sky in that direction.  While you’re at it, notice how close Saturn is to the star Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis. Keep an eye on the two in the coming weeks – they’re going to get a lot closer as Saturn slowly marches in the star’s direction. By the second week of June, they’ll be only 1/4 degree apart.

Corvus is easy to see. It's located a "fist" to the right of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. Once you've found Corvus, see how many stars of the large, sprawling constellation Virgo you can spot. This map shows the sky facing southeast around 9:30 - 10 p.m. Created with Stellarium

Once you’ve found Saturn and Spica, look one fist held at arm’s length to the right of Spica. See that funky little trapezoid of stars? Yep, that’s the crow.

The story of Corvus, Crater the Cup and Hydra the Water-Snake are memorialized in the sky as constellations. Credit: William Jamieson, Urania's Mirror

Myth has it that Apollo planned to make a sacrifice to Zeus and sent the crow off with a cup to fetch water from a spring. En route, our friend Corvus spotted a fig tree with unripe fruit. Instead of following orders, the bird chose to wait several days for the fruit to ripen into a tasty meal (sound familiar?), forcing Apollo to get the water himself. The crow needed an excuse for his tardiness, so he snatched a water-snake from the spring and upon his return, explained to Apollo that the snake had prevented him from filling the water cup.

“Oh, really??” thought Apollo. As punishment, he condemned the crow to a life of thirst and put the snake, cup and crow in the sky as a teachable moment for all future crows.

This diagram shows the positions of Saturn's moons around 10 p.m. Central time tonight. Titan will be easy to see near the planet. Next easiest is Rhea, the planet's second brightest moon. The view is reversed with south up and east to the right as seen through a typical telescope. Created with Chris Marriott's SkyMap software

Saturn is high up in the evening sky now through June and makes a tempting telescopic sight. When objects are high in the sky, they’re less disturbed by air currents and sharper than when seen closer to the horizon.

Use the diagram above to help you find Saturn’s moons. Only Titan will be easy to spot tonight in a small telescope. A 6-inch or 8-inch scope should show Rhea (Ray), Tethys (TEE-thiss) and Dione (Dee-OWN).

Mimas (MEE-mas) and Enceladus (en-SELL-uh-duss) are so close to Saturn they’re hard to pick out from its glare. You’ll need a 10 or 12-inch scope to do the job.

As promised, here are times this week for viewing the International Space Station (ISS) during the evening hours. The times are good for the Duluth, Minn. region. For times for your town you can log in to Heavens Above or go to Spaceweather’s Flybys and enter your zip code. All passes will happen across the northern sky with the ISS moving from west to east.

* Tonight April 24 beginning at 9:10 p.m.
* Mon. April 25 at 9:35 p.m.
* Tues. April 26 at 8:24 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. The earlier pass will be particularly bright. During the later one, the ISS will fade near the end of its path as it enters Earth’s shadow.
* Weds. April 27 at 8:49 p.m. and again at 10:24 p.m. During the second pass, the ISS will rise up in the northwest, become very bright and then fade quickly as it enters Earth’s shadow beneath the Big Dipper.
* Thurs. April 28 at 9:13 p.m.
* Fri. April 29 at 9:38 p.m. Brightest, highest pass of the week!

4 Responses

  1. John

    Hi Bob! Here’s something a little odd, but I’m wondering if you noticed anything as well.
    On this past Saturday, around 11 pm, a friend of mine claimed to have seen a few “ufo”s in the sky. He posted this on Facebook and a couple other people commented that they’d seen up to three odd lights in the sky as well.
    Have you heard anyone else talking about strange lights that night?
    I, for one, didn’t see a thing! But I wonder if perhaps they just saw the passing over of the International Space Station? Would that have been bright and curious enough for a casual observer to think it might be a ufo?

    Take care, Bob! Always a joy to read the blog!

    1. astrobob

      Hi John – thanks for writing. I’m guessing you’re right – they were probably seeing satellites, maybe even the ISS. Last night I watched two travel from south to north near one another for part of their tracks. Glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks!

  2. Jan - Alexandria

    So enjoyed last Saturday night of Easter with the grandsons ages 4 and 6. Gus – 6 year old- is doing a science project of Saturn with a styrofoam ball. Found my Star book dated 1956 for Saturn information and looked at your blog. Got out the telescope and viewed Saturn with them, watched the ISS go over including a flash which I had never seen before. Also watched 3 sand hill cranes fly over at dusk…all from the comforts of our deck! They were impressed 🙂 Thanks for all your info! Also for John above, a co-worker asked me about what was going on a week ago. They saw a white enlongated light in the sky…wrong time and place and movement for the ISS. My guess…a UFO 🙂

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Jan – sounds like it was an ideal evening. I wonder how many styrofoam planets there are out there : )

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