The eye of winter is upon us these late summer nights. I was out last night with my dog Sammy enjoying a walk in the almost-Blue Moon moonlight. Since my dog has mostly black fur, the extra light helps me keep track of where she’s sniffing around. Without the moon, she’s a phantom. Finding a black dog under a dark sky is similar to spotting a snowman in a blizzard.
Looking up in the bright moonlight, I noticed how few stars there were in the sky. With the moon nearly full and high in the south, its overpowering light simply washed out most of the them. Especially at first glance. Looking more closely I could see Cassiopeia, the Great Square of Pegasus and a few others, but the one star undiminished by the moon’s reflective power was Capella. It caught my attention more than Vega and the luminaries of the Summer Triangle simply because it lay straight ahead in my field of vision. I didn’t have to toss back my neck and crane upward to catch sight of it.
Capella’s the brightest star in Auriga, a constellation more closely associated with mid-winter than late summer, but every season contains the seeds of the next. The star begins its ascent in the northeastern sky in late July when no one’s paying attention. By the end of August, you’ll see it twinkling around 20 degrees high (two fists held at arm’s length) around 11 p.m.
If Capella seems to be winking at you slyly, you’re right. It’s as if the star knows it cannot be denied. Come January, Capella shines from nearly overhead on the coldest nights of the year. When the mid-winter full moon glares down from above, I’ll probably be looking to the northeast once again, watching for Capella’s counterpart Vega to give me hope that spring will come.
Stars do that for you. They’re messengers with news of what’s to be, which is why it’s good to get to know them.