The Stars and Planets in November

Jupiter and its four large moons
Jupiter and its four large moons as viewed through binoculars

Jupiter is the bright point of light you see in the eastern sky during the early evening hours this November: It will be the brightest astronomical object you’ll see this month, other than the moon and the sun!  You should be able to see Jupiter and up to four of its large moons through any telescope — even through a pair of binoculars.   These four large moons move so quickly that if you observe Jupiter’s moons every few hours you’ll see that they change their position in relation to the planet.  For example, if you observe Jupiter shortly after sunset you might see one or two of its large moons, but if you observe Jupiter a few hours later you might see all four of its large moons — or vice versa!  Currently, Jupiter is in the constellation Aries.
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The Dog Days of Summer

Buttercup the dog
Buttercup, our CEO's dog, cooling off in the shade during the Dog Days of Summer

Here in the United States, it’s hot. Real hot. Vast areas of the country are experiencing record drought. As the old saying goes, we’re in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer.

You may be surprised to learn that the term “Dog Days of Summer” is based on astronomy. The term dates back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans who associated the first rising of the bright star Sirius — together with the early morning Sun — as marking the onset of very hot weather. In fact, the Romans (falsely) believed the heat from Sirius actually contributed to the hotter weather here on Earth during the summer months. The Egyptians called Sirius “the dog star” (among other names) and also associated its rise with the annual flooding of the Nile river, which was critical to Egyptian agriculture. The Romans, however, saw the Dog Days of Summer as an inauspicious time of year, when disease became rampant in the heat and humidity of summertime Rome.

Sopdit, an ancient Egyptian personification of the star Sirius. Image Credit: Jeff Dahl

Sirius is the brightest star in the nighttime sky, and is in the constellation Canis Major, which is Latin for “the large dog.”

The Romans considered the Dog Days of Summer to run from late July through late August. The Greek word ὀπώρα (Opora) appears in the lexicon of the King James Bible, and basically refers to the part of the year between the rising of Sirius and the rising of another star called “Arcturus,” which basically demarcate the period of time we call the Dog Days of Summer.

In folklore, the Dog Days of Summer were perceived as the time of year when dogs went mad with the extreme heat of summer.

Here is a little ditty from folklore about the Dog Days of Summer – a ditty that often appeared in farmers’ almanacs:

Dog days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times our hopes are vain

The Dog Days even appear in the Charles Dickens’ classic, wintertime tale, A Christmas Carol:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Get a rare look at Mercury — Venus too!

April 2010 is a particularly good time to see the planet Mercury.  Mercury is the innermost planet to the sun, and is thus difficult to observe.  But you can get a good look at Mercury in early April this year, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

Look toward the west at sunset (being careful not to look at the sun!).  You should see two bright points of light above the western horizon.  The object on top is the planet Venus, and the object beneath that is the planet Mercury.   Both planets are in the constellation Aries, which is a Name A Star Live constellation.  So if you have a star in Aries, then if you find Venus and Mercury, you know your star is nearby!

Venus and Jupiter at Sunset
Venus and Jupiter shortly after sunset, June 2002. Credit: NASA

Mercury and Venus will appear closest together on the evenings of April 3 and 4.  Again, the best views will be from the northern hemisphere of Earth.  If you live in the southern hemisphere, then the two planets will appear so close to the western horizon at sunset that you may not get a good view.  (Again, don’t look at the sun!)

If you observe the two planets through a telescope. you’ll notice that Venus looks like a bright, almost-full circle, while Mercury looks like a semi-circle — or even a crescent shape.  This is because Mercury is so very close to the sun that we never really see the full face of the planet.

Don’t wait!  Your best views of Venus and Mercury will be in the first week to 10 days of April.

Top Ten Valentine’s Star Messages

Each Name A Star Live Gift Set includes a letter-size star certificate that displays the name of the star, astronomical information about the star, and an area where you can include a brief personal message for your gift recipient.

Here are some notable Valentine’s messages our customers wrote in January (we’ve changed the names to protect our customers’ privacy):

  1. There are not enough stars in the sky to compare to the love that I will always have for you.   Happy Valentine’s Day, my beautiful Roger.
  2. Happy Valentine’s Day! This is to celebrate our first Valentine’s together.  Remember me every time you gaze at the stars – yours will be the brightest and most beautiful of them all =)    I love you.
  3. No star could ever compare to you.  I love you so much.
  4. To the woman that means the world to me. I give you this star as a sign of my love for you.   My love extends to our star and back again. I love you, always and forever yours…
  5. To the one whom I love most in this galaxy… Forever my wife.   Happy Valentine’s Day!
  6. Kiss me and you will see Stars.   Love me and I will give them to you.
  7. For our first Valentines.  Every time I am away I will look up in the night sky and see your star and think of you.  Always…
  8. You are everlasting in my heart.   Every time you think of your star, remember, like the stars, my love for you endures forever.
  9. I love you more than life. You are my world, my one true love, and my shining star.
  10. Mi Amor, I Love you so much.
Name A Star for Valentine's Day!

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