Looking Up: Find the starry Northern Crown
The next clear evening gaze upward in the southern sky to behold the Northern Crown.
Otherwise known by its Latin name Corona Borealis, this constellation makes a pretty curve of seven stars, forming a semi-circle.
Think if it as a capital letter “C”, laying on its side!
To find the Northern Crown, let’s set the scene. Dominating the evening southern sky this June is the brilliant white planet Jupiter. To Jupiter’s lower left is a bright blue-white star, Spica. To the upper left of Jupiter is the very bright orange star, Arcturus.
Arcturus is at the bottom of a huge kite-shaped constellation, known as Bootes the Herdsman. the Northern Crown is situated immediately left of Bootes’ “kite.”
Among the seven stars that make up the Crown’s “gems” is the brightest one, Gemma. The second magnitude star has been called “The Pearl of the Crown.”
Gemma is a double star, with one that eclipses the other as seen from Earth. This causes a slight variation in brightness.
Nearby is a dim, telescopic star that burst as a nova in 1866, becoming visible to unaided eyes for eight days. It flared again in 1946.
Some nice double stars in the Crown await inspection by a backyard telescope.
The Northern Crown, like many of our recognized constellations, are attributed to ancient Greeks who had mythological stories explaining them all. One version tells us that the Northern Crown was placed in the heavens to commemorate a wedding gift, a crown given to Ariadne, when she was wed to Dionysus. Another version says that Dionysus gave it to Ariadne, who in turn gave it to Theseus after he arrived in Crete to kill the minotaur that the Cretans have demanded in tribute from Athens to feed. the hero of this tale uses the crown’s light to escape a labyrinth after disposing of the minotaur. Dionysus then placed the crown among the stars.
Other cultures had their interpretations of the curve of stars.
The Arabs saw it as a loose string of jewels or a dish. The Shawnee Indians called them the “Celestial Sisters.” The Australian Aborigines pictured a boomerang.
There’s also a constellation, the Southern Crown, Corona Australis. Smaller than its northern counterpart, this group makes another curve of stars, but is best seen only from the far southern latitudes. From mid-northern United States, the Southern Crown may be seen low in the southern sky around 3 a.m. in mid-June (or 10 p.m. in mid-August), tucked below the stars that make up the famous “Teapot” stars, otherwise called Sagittarius the Archer.
It can be enjoyable sweeping through the night sky with a small telescope at low power. You will find an infinite arrangement of stars to make your own little unofficial “constellations” or asterisms as they are called. They are useful to help remember in tracking down a star cluster, galaxy or other deep-sky destination.
Last quarter Moon is on June 17.
Keep looking up!
SOLAR ECLIPSE STORIES: As a reminder, I am looking for your reports of past solar eclipses you have observed. Have you ever witnessed a total solar eclipse? When was it? What was it like? Pictures are welcome too. These reports will be published in advance of the much anticipated total solar eclipse crossing the United States on August 21, 2017. Watch for more details in “Looking Up.” Send your reports to the email listed below.
— 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.