I give up — what’s that bright thing in the sky? (Oh. Sirius.)

Image from my app.

Image from my app.

Any astronomers out there? Because I’ve got a question that’s been bugging me.

Some time ago, I picked up one of those cards at Starbucks that provides a code that lets you download a free iPhone app. This one was called “Star Walk,” and it was very cool.

Basically, you hold your phone up to the sky, and it gives you a labeled diagram of what you’re looking at. For that matter, you can use it inside, and it will tell you exactly where the planets and the constellations and major satellites are in relation to where you’re standing. You can even hold it toward the ground and see where the heavenly bodies are when they’re not in the visible sky, on the other side of our planet.

I appreciate it because I’ve always felt particularly ignorant because I know so little about what’s out there. I read those novels I love about Jack Aubrey and Dr. Maturin, and Jack is always so dumbfounded by how little his friend the doctor knows about the planets and stars or anything else having to do with seamanship. And I’m not genius with languages like the doctor, so I feel particularly stupid.

Before the app, if I saw a particularly bright object in the sky, I assumed it was Venus, unless it had a reddish tint, in which case I assumed it was Mars. But I really had no idea.

I’m not that much brighter now, but I’ve picked up a couple of things. I can look up right away and say, “There’s Jupiter.” And at this time of night, I can pick out Orion pretty clearly.

But there’s something that’s been perplexing me in recent weeks.

Jupiter is off to the right of Orion. Fine, I can see that. But there’s something a roughly equal distance off to the left of Orion, at about the same elevation, that’s just about as bright as Jupiter. And what with light pollution from streetlamps and such, that object is the only thing bright enough to see in that part of the sky.

There’s nothing on Star Walk’s celestial map to indicate that there’s anything that really stands out in that part of the sky. There’s Sirius, and…

You know what? I just looked up Canis Major, which I know to be to the left of Orion, and according to Wikipedia Sirius is the brightest star in that constellation by far. In fact, I see elsewhere that it’s the brightest star in the sky other than our own Sol. So, you know. Duh.

(Yes, all of you who know something about astronomy; I am abysmally ignorant. No way would they let me be master and commander of any vessel in Nelson’s Navy.)

Don’t know why my app didn’t indicate that. (It makes it look like Murzim and Betelgeuse and Bellatrix and Rigel are all just as bright, which they’re not.) But hey, it’s a free app. And what it does do is pretty cool.

It’s got to be Sirius. So never mind. Unless you know I’m wrong, in which case please tell me…

20 thoughts on “I give up — what’s that bright thing in the sky? (Oh. Sirius.)

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    All right… in defense of Star Walk… now that I know it’s Sirius, if I touch it on my screen, information comes up telling me it’s the brightest star in the sky.

    So, double duh.

  2. Norm Ivey

    Google Sky does the same sort of thing. It also identifies earth points–the South Pole is located somewhere under my fireplace, apparently. I could identify the Dippers and Orion, but that’s all. The app has made it so much easier to identify constellations. Last summer there was some sort of planetary alignment that I couldn’t pick out until I used the app. It’s a wondrous age.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    One tip, most of y’all may know this: If you want to easily find the north star, you take the two stars that form the outer edge of the Big Dipper and they point a straight line to Polaris.

  4. bud

    I’m always amazed at how incredibly far away even the nearest stars are to earth. Sirius, as bright as it is, is actually some 9 light years away. That works out to several trillion miles. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and is now about 2/3 of a light DAY away from earth. The nearest star is about 4.2 light YEARS away.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      That is from a German site, and was copyrighted, in English, in the 70s. Where in the world did you discover it, and what were you taking?

    1. Scout

      Aha – is that why Sirius Black turnd into a dog 🙂 I didn’t realize Bellatrix was also a star until I saw Brad’s map there.

  5. Mark Stewart

    It’s posts and comments like these that give me hope for Columbia, and SC more generally. Wryly amusing to read sitting on the porch as the daylight comes to an end.

    Columbia could use a planetarium. They’re great on hot summer afternoons, and chilly winter days.

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