A few constellations are appropriate for the Easter season. Ancient astronomers, who lacked the in-depth scientific knowledge we claim to have yet knew a great deal without the benefits of the telescope, also were not lacking for passion for the sky and imagination.
They gave us the Easter Bunny! Well, not really... but they found among the stars the shape of a hare, which goes by the Latin name, Lepus. This group is better seen on winter evenings, low in the south, right under Orion. You might still be able to trace it in mid-April but look low in the southwest, in late twilight or just afterwards. Beneath the familiar and bright constellation Orion and to the right of the brilliant star Sirius, look for the “Bunny’ as it seems to be hopping away. Indeed it is, as the Sun marches on and what we refer to as “winter stars” become temporarily lost in the solar glare.
Lepus the Hare seems to be in trouble since Orion is a mythological hunter, club in hand, and followed by his two hunting dogs, the constellations Canis Major- the “Big Dog” (which contains the star Sirius) and Canis Minor- “Little Dog” (marked by a bright star, Procyon).
We can also connect with the season the Cross, and we have two- the Northern Cross and Southern Cross. The former is another name for the general outline of Cygnus the Swan, better seen in summer but visible now low in the northeast at about midnight. The Southern Cross, or Crux, is a famous and bright group, synonymous with “Down Under” the equator. The Southern Cross can be seen in mid-April around midnight, due south (naturally) but you also have to be very south- as far south as lower Florida! For all you readers taking Caribbean cruises this month, go outside late and look south. The view should be gorgeous- if you are away from the glare of the ship lights.
Then we have Crater the Cup. This is a very dim constellation but in a dark sky you certainly may see it, and in mid-April evenings it is well situated about a third way up the sky in the southeast-south. Some refer this to the cup used at the Last Supper but it has also been linked to goblets of Greek pagan stories.
Indeed there is a great variety among the 88 official constellations; most have very old origins. Some dim groups were added in comparatively recent times, filling in spaces between the older constellations, and honor instruments of the European scientists- we have Telescopium the Telescope, Microscopium the Microscope, Norma the Level, Octans the Octant, Circinus the Compass, Antila the Air Pump and Horologium the Clock.
Latin surely is a very fine language though not used by anyone anymore in everyday use- good thing, or we’d be smacking the Horologium alarm every morning when we wake up and have a little Horologium on our wrist...
It’s also probably good they don’t make constellations anymore- or we’d be sure to add a Smartphone, cell phone, Ipad, laptop and DVD among the stars.
The International Astronomical Union made the official list of 88 constellations, in 1922- so astronomers all over the world would be on the same page - or star chart. We can be thankful, in this digital, computerized database age, that we do not simply refer to regions of the sky above by sections of a grid and apply numbers to them. Despite the great advance of technology and scientific knowledge, even professional astronomers use constellations of old, so steeped in folklore.
Enjoy the sky this week. Full Moon is on April 11.
Keep looking up!
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at email@example.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.