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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Animal stars and the big full moon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Every so often I get a question in my e-mail from a reader. I received one recently asking, "How many animal constellations are there."

Well, knowing that there are 88 recognized constellations in the northern and southern hemispheres, I would have to go looking for information as to how many were animals.

After checking online sources then sitting down with maps of both hemispheres, I did some counting.

As far as I am aware there are 37 constellations that are named after animals, most of them in the northern skies.

They range all the way from bears, to dogs, to dragons, colts, giraffes, birds of all kind, snakes, unicorns, a fox, a fly, a lion, insects (although technically you can't count a scorpion as an insect, it is an arachnid), sea creatures, and a flying horse.

There are also several mythological creatures scattered around.

That is quite a zoo-full of critters.

Two of the best known of the birds -- Cygnus, the Swan, and Aquila, the Eagle -- are rising in the east now at about midnight. They are part of the Summer Triangle and will be working their way to almost overhead as summer comes upon us next month.

Of course, we all know of the bears -- Ursa Major and Minor; the dogs -- Canis Major and Minor -- but we might not know about Lupus, the Wolf, Lepus, the Hare, Lacerta, the Lizard, Vulpecula, the Fox, Musca, the Fly, or Columbia, the Dove.

Some are large and some are very small, like Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. There are only two stars in the constellation, and neither one is very bright.

To find it, look east at about 9 p.m. MDT. The two stars of the constellation are between Bootes and The Big Dipper and just right of Coma Berenices. Just remember, it is only two stars.

As for the rest, you can make your own list and go out hunting an hour or two after sunset. See what kind of "trophies" you can bag from your hunting list. Just remember, some are in the southern hemisphere, so you won't find the fly, the peacock, the toucan, or the Phoenix from here.

SKY WATCH: Full moon on Saturday, May 5. This will be the biggest and closest full moon of the year. Don't get too excited, it will be only eight percent larger than last year's closest moon, but should make a nice sight as you watch it rise over the eastern horizon. The almost-full moon will make a nice triangle with Saturn and Spica just after sunset on Thursday, May 3, and will be on the other side of the pair the next night. Venus is still moving eastward against the background of stars and will be snuggling up close to the star Elnath starting on Thursday, May 3, and continuing for the next several nights. It will be closest on the evening of May 6. Elnath is a star shared by two constellations. It is the star marking the end of the northern horn of Taurus, the Bull and is the lower corner star of Auriga, the Charioteer. Examine the duo with binoculars for a good look.

NEXT WEEK: Countdown for a partial solar eclipse and more astronomical blathering.

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Vernon Whetstone
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