Stargazing: 'Northern Crown' easy to spot in sky overhead

Stargazing: 'Northern Crown' easy to spot in sky overhead

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I’ve written many, many columns on the constellations, their mythology, their shapes and their position in the sky and today’s column is about one particular arrangement of stars that look like just what it is supposed to be.

This particular constellation is known as Corona Borealis and is directly overhead in our summertime skies as soon as the sky becomes dark….about 10 p.m.

I know that might be a bit late for the early rising stargazer but this diminutive grouping of stars will be with us throughout June and July so surely a good time to look for it will come around.

Because of the unique positioning of the seven stars in Corona Borealis, over the years it has become known as the “Northern Crown”, which is understandable when you look at the constellation.

Not only has this star grouping been observed and documented by ancient Greek and Arabic cultures, documents attributed to the Shawnee Indians in our country also refer to the crown.

I mentioned in one of my earlier columns about how difficult it is to fully understand the motion of the stars and those in the crown are no exceptions. Of the seven stars you see, no two of them are moving in the same direction or at the same speed.

From the upper right side of the crown, the second and third stars are Beta Cor Bor and Alpha Cor Bor respectively. Just like these and all the other stars appear to be at the same distance from us, both of these are moving in opposite directions from each other. Calculations have proven that over the past 50,000 years, these two stars must have changed their positions entirely in relation to each other.

In another 50,000 years, assuming Earth is still inhabited, the stars of the “Northern Crown” will have moved so much the constellation as we know it now will no longer exist.

In Greek mythology, Corona Borealis was linked to the legend of Theseus and the minotaur. It was generally considered to represent a crown given by Dionysus to Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of Crete, after she had been abandoned by the Athenian prince Theseus.

Other than the pretty shape of the stars, Corona Borealis is devoid of nebulae and galaxies. For this reason, it is one of the prime hunting grounds for comets, with many astronomers believing that any suspect object encountered visibly with an ordinary telescope will almost certainly be a comet. That’s not always the case but it does make sense.

When you locate the crown, from the upper right, look along the curving line till you come to the star that is 3rd in line. That star is the brightest in Corona Borealis and is named Alphecca, also known as Gemma, sometimes called the Pearl of the Crown. The name Alphecca originated with a description of Corona Borealis as the “broken one” in reference to the fact that these stars appear in a semi-circle, rather than a full circle.

Another very bright object will also make itself known very early next Monday morning as the International Space Station (ISS) makes a pass directly over Council Bluffs.

On June 29 at 4:52 a.m. the ISS will first appear in the southwestern sky and will continue to move toward the northeast and make its highest pass overhead at 4:55 a.m. Look for the craft to disappear in the northeastern sky at 4:58 a.m.

The International Space Station is an unprecedented achievement in global human endeavors to conceive, plan, build, operate and utilize a research platform in space. With assembly of station at completion, continuity of visiting vehicles, and support of a full-time crew of six, the era of utilization for research advances.

The ISS will be very bright and will be traveling in excess of 17,000 mph at an altitude of about 245 miles high.

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